Cards’ Wong exorcises postseason demon with one flip of bat

ST. LOUIS — Maybe now Kolten Wong can stop beating himself up for getting picked off first base in an embarrassing mistake that ended Game 4 of last year’s World Series.

With one swing of the bat Monday night in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, he certainly earned that much and more.

The Dodgers had tied the game at one in the sixth inning before Wong came up in the bottom of the seventh and slugged a two-run homer that proved the difference in the Cardinals’ 3-1 victory that gave them a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.

"To finally contribute to this team and finally do something special is exciting for me," Wong said. "That pickoff last year definitely crushed me for a long time throughout the offseason. But it was something that I’m not thankful for, but I know it made me stronger as a person and as a player."

"He takes that stuff a little too hard," manager Mike Matheny said, and anyone who remembers the apology Wong sent out on Twitter last year would not disagree.

But you could tell from Wong’s bat flip that as soon as he connected with the hanging slider from lefty reliever Scott Elbert, he knew what he had done. "You saw it on my face," Wong said. "The emotion came out."

Cardinals relievers knew it, too, as the ball came straight for the right-field bullpen. Closer Trevor Rosenthal, in fact, said he became so lost in the moment that the 407-foot blast came close to hitting him.

"We knew off the bat where it was going, so we were kind of jumping around and high-fiving," Rosenthal said. "I was kind of in awe for a second, like, ‘No way did he just hit a home run right here.’ It was exciting."

And to think, if right-handed-hitting Pete Kozma had done something offensively in Game 1, the lefty-hitting Wong might not have been at second base against lefty starter Hyun-Jin Ryu. But after Wong doubled in Game 2 and hit .315 against lefties during the regular season, Matheny showed no hesitation turning to the rookie.

"He’s seen good at-bats against lefties all season," Matheny said. "Seems like there’s times he seems better off left-handers. He has the ability, as we saw again, every once in a while he’s going to pop one. He’s got great power and when he gets into a good groove, I like him against anybody."

MORE ON THE CARDINALS

Count on seeing Wong in the lineup in Game 4 when the Dodgers start THE left-hander, Clayton Kershaw. Though the Cardinals have hammered Kershaw in two consecutive postseason starts, they know what kind of a challenge they will face as the Dodgers try to send the series back to Los Angeles.

"This was certainly kind of a must-win game, knowing they do have Kershaw and (Zack) Greinke left (for potential Game 5)," said a sizzling Matt Carpenter, who contributed a homer and a double for the third straight game. "Our team is playing well right now. Feel good about our chances."

He doesn’t feel any better than Wong, who once and for all should have wiped out the embarrassment of last year’s mistake.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @StanMcNeal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.