ST. LOUIS — On Monday night, Kolten Wong was on his way to the dog-pile at home plate with two cups of water to douse walk-off hero Matt Adams.
But Wong was late to the party, thanks to Yadier Molina. "I tried to throw water on Big City but Yadi came from the side and tackled me," Wong said. "I spilled water all over myself. It was a good time, though."
Not nearly as good as Tuesday night, however.
This time, Wong was the one being mobbed at the plate after he smacked a walk-off homer on a full count with two outs in the ninth to lift the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"Once I got to 3-2, I definitely was sitting dead-red fastball," Wong said. "I was either going to get that pitch or strike out because I was swinging at something hard. If he would have thrown something else, I probably would have been in trouble."
But he got what he thought he would from new Pirates reliever Ernesto Frieri. And Wong left no doubt where the ball was going. "Soon as I hit it, I knew I hit it good, and looking at the trajectory of the ball, I knew it was going out," he said.
It marked the first time the Cardinals won consecutive games on walk-off homers since Albert Pujols did the honors on June 5 and 6, 2011, against the Cubs.
Wong was playing in just his third game since coming off the disabled list because of a sore left shoulder. He already had driven in the first two runs for the Cardinals with a two-out double in the second, and he now has four hits in 10 at-bats since his return. The soreness that prevented him from finishing his swing and led to a .103 batting average in June apparently is gone.
"As you can see, my swings are a lot more aggressive now," he said. "Knowing that I can swing the bat without having any pain brings a lot of calmness to me."
Wong called the home run a career highlight, and while he’s only a rookie, a lot already has happened. He struggled badly at the start of spring training, found his confidence, caught fire and started the season as the second baseman. But when the team and he weren’t hitting, he was sent to Memphis. He returned and got hot enough to be named NL Rookie of the Month for May, but then hurt his shoulder and landed on the disabled list.
"This year has been such a roller coaster for me, up and down, up and down," Wong said. "Finally to get this to happen, it’s pretty much one of the top things to happen to me in my career, so it’s awesome."
And how was it being the one mobbed at the plate instead of the one trying to do the mobbing?
"It was a little scary going in there and seeing those big guys," said the 5-foot-8 23-year-old. "I didn’t know if I was going to get beat up or what. But it was awesome, seeing those guys and how excited they were. This was a huge win for us, especially against someone in our division."
— Carlos Martinez. It might not have been his best start, but it was his longest start, and he did what starters aim to do — he kept his team in the game for six innings. Martinez allowed a pair of two-run homers but otherwise stayed out of trouble while turning in some encouraging signs: He threw a pretty efficient 85 pitches, his first 12 pitches were strikes and he blew away Andrew McCutchen with 98- and 99-mph fastballs in the first. McCutchen, however, got his payback with one of the two-run homers, an opposite-field blast that came on a 98-mph fastball.
— Rookie showdown. Oscar Taveras and Gregory Polanco showed why they are considered two of the game’s top hitting prospects. They combined for five hits, with Polanco getting three singles off Martinez on different pitches — a curve to lead off the game, a slider in the third and a fastball in the fifth that zipped between Martinez’s legs. Taveras had two singles for his first multi-hit game and made a nice running catch in foul ground.
The two 22-year-old lefty hitters are not strangers. Taveras said they vied this past winter for Rookie of the Year honors in the Dominican Winter League. Who won that contest? "I did," Taveras said with a grin.
— Yadier Molina’s arm. The Pirates had just taken a 4-2 lead in the fifth and Neal Walker was on third with a one-out triple when apparently he forgot who was catching. Even though Molina had to short-hop a pitch in the dirt, he came up and fired a perfect throw in time to pick off Walker. The call was upheld after a challenge and Russell Martin then struck out on the next pitch to end the inning and swing momentum to the St. Louis side.
— Yadi’s bat. The 10-for-21 roll he enjoyed at the plate last week has dissolved into an 0-for-the-past three days. His 0-for-4 on Tuesday included an inning-ending double play in the eighth, an inning-ending pop-up with a runner on third in the fifth and a strikeout in the third when he failed to advance a runner.
— Stopping the Bull. Third baseman Pedro "El Toro" Alvarez is hitting only .254 for his career against the Cardinals, but he makes the hits count. Alvarez tied the game in the fourth when he slugged an 0-2 curveball 412 feet for a two-run homer. It was the 100th homer of his career, and he has hit more against the Cardinals — 14 — than any team.
— Jaime Garcia. Tuesday marked his 28th birthday, but it wasn’t very happy. The club made it official that Garcia will undergo season-ending surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome on Friday. Asked how many times he’s had better birthdays, Garcia said, "About 27."