Kolten Wong’s Very Bad Night

Kolten Wong merely completed a mistake-filled night for the Cardinals, but to many, forever more, Kolten Wong lost Game 4. (Getty Images)

Kolten Wong merely completed a mistake-filled night for the Cardinals, but to many, forever more, Kolten Wong lost Game 4. (Getty Images)

ST. LOUIS — Kolten Wong is 23 years old. He just turned 23.

He’s one of the brightest prospects in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization, routinely making top-100 prospect lists around Major League Baseball, drawing comparisons by prospect guru John Sickels to “Howie Kendrick with a better BB/K ratio or Todd Walker with a better glove.”

Sickels also ended his appraisal of Wong with this: “Wong is one of those guys who always seems to be in the middle of a critical play, and I mean that in the best way.”

Not on Sunday night.

Instead, Wong entered a 4-2 game as a pinch-runner for Allen Craig in the ninth inning. And with Carlos Beltran up as the tying run, and announcers laughing at the idea of even holding him on — what runner would wander far enough off first base in that situation to make a pickoff throw matter? — Wong was picked off to end a second straight playoff game in unlikely fashion.

Unlike Saturday night’s craziness, which lacked a true goat, instead providing a Talmudic situation to discuss and never solve, this could end up being Kolten Wong’s legacy for the rest of his life.

Don’t believe me? Bill Buckner played 22 years in the major leagues, 17 of them by the time he made his famous error, amassing 2,464 hits, seven .300-average seasons and a batting title before the play he made cost the Boston Red Sox a World Series game, and ultimately, a World Series. No one thinks of Buckner, to this day, as that solid hitter with the Cubs. And for nearly everyone who isn’t plugged into the Cardinals’ development system, this is one of the first times they are seeing or even hearing about Kolten Wong.

Now, there’s a good chance the Cardinals weren’t winning Sunday night’s game anyway. Carlos Beltran is fantastic in the postseason, but he’s not a Matt Christopher character. Still, just as Buckner’s error only capped an awful inning for Bob Stanley and Calvin Schiraldi, Kolten Wong merely completed a mistake-filled night for the Cardinals. But to many, forever more, Kolten Wong lost Game 4 of the World Series. And on Sunday night, he dealt with the media aftermath of that perception.

Wong has only begun to learn how to play at this level, let alone deal with the attendant responsibilities to the public. Still, after the game, he answered reporters’ questions as best he could. What words did he get, encouraging or otherwise, from teammates?

“You know, just keep going,” Wong said, having trouble meeting our eyes, still in his full uniform, the dirt from his too-late dive fresh.

He took a deep breath, trying to keep it together.

Was he trying to steal, for some unknown reason?

“Not really,” Wong said, feigning casualness. “You know, being ready to go first-to-third, if Carlos hit one, but got too far off. Made a good throw. Got me out.”

Is he upset the Cardinals had to go back to Boston?

“You know, that’s just the game.” Pause. “You’ve got to earn it. Come back tomorrow.”

I don’t know what was asked next. It didn’t matter. He wasn’t saying much, and I needed to talk to Seth Maness. But I looked over after Maness had finished, and Wong was still answering questions, his eyes reddened.

He just turned 23, and he will be held responsible for losing his team a World Series game, fair or not, and he knows it. He doesn’t know how to hide those emotions yet.

Perhaps he’s at an advantage over Buckner, whose story was written, and didn’t have many years left to override his famous error. It didn’t really work that way for Fred Merkle of Merkle’s Boner fame, though, just 19 when he allowed the Cubs to beat the Giants in a critical 1908 showdown by failing to touch second base. Merkle played until he was 37, finished seventh in MVP voting in 1911, played in five World Series.

Here’s his obituary.

So I couldn’t help but feel terribly for Wong as the group interview mercifully ended, and the rookie beat a hasty retreat to the showers, trying to shed a play that probably will follow him for the rest of his life and beyond.

How many fans upset that the Cardinals lost a baseball game realize what the stakes were for Kolten Wong?

43 thoughts on “Kolten Wong’s Very Bad Night

  1. Come on now. This article is ridiculously bombastic and over-reactive. Bad play? Yes. Life ruining? Jeez. I expect better from SOE.

    • Probably not life ruining. However, it has been said that the home run Donnie Moore gave up to Dave Henderson in the 86′ ALCS contributed to his suicide in subsequent years. In the age of Google Earth and social media the pressure has increased exponentially. If I wasn’t a Sox fan, I’d be rooting for the Cards. Wong looks like a dynamic young player. I certainly hope this doesn’t dog him for years. Unfortunately it’s not out of the question though.

    • The Cardinals did not lose because of Wong. The score was 4-2. If (and this is a big If) Belatran had hit a home run, it would have been only 4-4. This article is ridiculous and over-sensational.

  2. I don’t think it will be life-ruining. I certainly hope not! But if you don’t think this is the first thing people think about when they think of Wong for a long time, you are ignoring famous late-seasons mistakes dating back over a century. And no matter how unfair I think that is- and I do, the whole piece is about that- I think it’s true.

  3. Well, thankfully he plays in St. Louis. If any fanbase is willing to give someone a second chance to overcome a meaningful error, it’s Cardinal Nation.

  4. I tweeted at Wong to keep his chin up and keep moving ahead because, even though logic tells us all that he did not lose this game for the team, I’m sure it feels like it to him. And I’m sure there are jerks who will blame it on him out of ignorance or passion or both.

    I really feel bad for this kid, but I think it’s good for him to learn that bad plays happen, and you have to be able to pick yourself up and move on from them when they do. I hope he gets the chance to have his World Series legacy to be more than this pickoff.

  5. Cards fans are amazingly forgiving. We are not New York, we are not Boston; we are Midwesterners, who will give him another chance and will not remind him if this series falls apart for us.

    • Yeah, kinda like how the Cards fans ‘forgave’ Albert Pujols (e.g. death threats against his family, etc.) when he left St. Louis after giving you the best ten years any player has given a club.

      Go ahead and take your potshots at Boston and NY, but you can stick a fork in the ‘smartest fans in baseball’ myth. The Pujols thing showed Cards fans to be some of the most classless fans out there. That’s your legacy now.

  6. Not Wong’s fault!

    This is why it was a balk according to the MLB rules under rule 8.01(b) describing the ‘Set Position’
    8.01(b) The set position. …… Preparatory to coming to a set position, the pitcher shall have one hand on his side; from this position he shall go to his set position as defined in Rule 8.01(b) without interruption and in one continuous motion. The pitcher, following his stretch, must (a) hold the ball in both hands in front of his body and (b) come to a complete stop. This must be enforced. Umpires should watch this closely. Pitchers are constantly attempting to beat the rule in their efforts to hold runners on bases and in cases where the pitcher fails to make a complete stop called for in the rules, the umpire should immediately call a Balk.”

    Watch the video at about 1:05 & 1:37, and judge for yourself whether the Boston pitcher 1) held the ball in both hands in front of his body AND 2) came to a complete stop

    http://wapc.mlb.com/play/?content_id=31189779&topic_id=6479266

      • I agree, if anything he stopped VERY briefly, depending on the umpire’s definition of complete stop :-)

    • Read the entire rule carefully — he’s not required to come to a complete stop before throwing to a base, only before pitching. He’s allowed to throw to first in the middle of his stretch motion without stopping, you see it all the time. And I’m a Cardinals fan.

      • Of course a pitcher can pick-off in other situations like the stretch or just being off the pitching rubber. But he is required to come to a complete stop in the process of going from the stretch TO the set, which is what the Boston pitcher was doing…read again…

        Preparatory to coming to a set position, the pitcher shall have one hand on his side; from this position he shall go to his set position as defined in Rule 8.01(b) without interruption and in one continuous motion. The pitcher, following his stretch, must (a) hold the ball in both hands in front of his body and (b) come to a complete stop. This must be enforced.

        Notice the part about going from the ‘preparatory’ position (a.k.a the stretch) to the set, the pitcher must going without interruption (i.e. pickoff to a base) and in one continuous motion.

    • Wrong. if you knew anything about baseball, you would know that you don’t have to come set to make a throw to first. Also, the pitcher stepped off the rubber prior to moving his sholders. Watch the video carefully again, then read the rule and the way it is applied, then you can come back and post.

      • Wrong, read the rule again…

        8.01(b) The set position. …… Preparatory to coming to a set position, the pitcher shall have one hand on his side; from this position he shall go to his set position as defined in Rule 8.01(b) without interruption and in one continuous motion. The pitcher, following his stretch, must (a) hold the ball in both hands in front of his body and (b) come to a complete stop. This must be enforced.

    • Does not have to come to a stop when throwing a pickoff, only if he throws a pitch. No balk.

      • Of course you can pick off from the stretch, the set, or just standing off the rubber.

        BUT, when going from the stretch TO the set, which the Boston pitcher was doing, the pitcher has to complete uninterrupted until he is set by having both hands on the ball and coming to a complete stop.

        Even if umpires are ‘lax’ on some elements of the balk, or the ‘phantom’ tag in double play situations, it doesn’t mean it follows the rules always.

    • I do hate the red sox as much as you do, but this is not the right reading of this rule. You must stop to come to the plate and deliver a pitch, but you’re allowed to step off the rubber and throw to first at any time–stop or no stop. It was just a good pick-off move. Uehara has a decent move–good for a closer, but nothing special. The footwork was very fast and the placement of the throw was perfect.

      The weird thing is the little hop that wong takes at just the wrong moment to get his weight going the wrong way.

  7. Oh come on. The chances of the Cardinals winning that game were slim to none with Koji pitching in the 9th with a 2 run lead. Give me a break, the kid made a mistake, it happens.

    • Agree with this. Beltran might have gotten a hit, might have gotten a home run, but odds are he’d make an out. Hard way for a game to end, but it’s not like the Buckner play.

  8. Let’s go back to the 1926 World Series, which went 7 games and whose final game ended with a runner, representing the tying run in the bottom of the 9th inning, caught stealing 2nd base. The baserunner’s career was forever thereafter defined by that mistake on the basepaths, and to this day, it is impossible to speak of “George Herman Ruth” without mentioning his gaffe that cost his team a World Series.

  9. Wong was a million miles off base mentally and strategically.
    When a team is down more than a run, every runner must take an extra-conservative approach. This is mentioned by anyone baseball-knowledgeable in Little League, softball league, etc. If you get on base with your team down +2 or more, the last thing you want to do is be over-aggressive or complacent. Even a great base-stealer will stay put, because his run isn’t the big one.
    Wong’s gaffe may be his alone, but if not, I think fault has to be shared with the Redbird staff in general for not hammering home this ‘cardinal’ strategic point of baseball strategy at some point. He shouldn’t have even taken a good lead. Add to the fact that Carlos Babe Ruth Lou Gehrig Beltran was at the plate, and you have a legendary miscue.

  10. Yes, I totally agree with the author – this guy’s career is OVER. He should probably just resign himself to becoming a hack sportswriter.

  11. Sports fans should be more compassionate. Wong should be commended for trying to steal in a critical situation, even though he failed because Uehara made a great throw.

    • There’s nothing to be commended about trying to steal when you’re down two and your best hitter is at the plate.

    • I agree with you Ryan. Not a stealing situation. His run means nothing unless Beltran gets on or hits a homer.

  12. He will be remembered as a bonehead only if the Cardinals LOSE the World Series. That’s the way it is in America. You’re forgiven only if the prize is not won.

  13. It’s unfair to think that way about a young up and coming star. Yes, he got picked off to end the game. It’s still a team sport. How many times did David Freese not come through lastnight with RISP? No timely hits. Did the 1st base coach make sure to remind Wong to not get picked off, you are not in a stealing situation. I’m a Cardinals fan and I was shocked to see the game end like that. Just as schocked as the Red Sox and their fans were the night before. Kolten Wong, hold your head up and make the best of your next oppurtunity.

  14. “the play he made cost the Boston Red Sox a World Series game”

    No, this is untrue. If Buckner makes the play, the game is tied and it continues. Who knows what then happens?