Trusting instincts proved costly for Cardinals in Game 2

Kolten Wong, Zack Greinke
Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke tries to avoid a tag by Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong in the third inning. Wong tagged him with his glove while holding the ball in the other hand. Greinke was eventually awarded second base on the play. He would later score.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Baseball isn’t about thinking. It’s about instincts and learned reactions.

That’s why hitters take hundreds of swings a week in batting practice and pitchers throw dozens of pitches a week in the bullpen.

But on Saturday, in one of the biggest plays of Game 2 of the National League Division Series, Cardinal second baseman Kolten Wong trusted his instincts and it wound up costing his team a big run in a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers.

With runners on first and third and nobody out in the third inning, Wong fielded Dee Gordon’s ground ball, reached out to tag Zack Greinke with his glove, then threw to first for a rally-killing double play.

Problem was, Wong had the ball in his hand not his glove. So after some initial confusion the Dodgers challenged the call at second and after reviewing the video, the umpires agreed with them, sending Greinke back to the base paths from where he scored, two batters later, on Adrian Gonzalez’s single to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead.

The Cardinals eventually tied the game in the eighth on Matt Carpenter’s two-run homer, but Matt Kemp answered in the bottom half of the inning with a home run of his own, tying the best-of-five series at a win apiece.

“It’s a tough play,” Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny said. “Your instincts are to reach, and Kolten didn’t even realize that he still had the ball in his bare hand. But I think it was obvious that that happened and that one came back to get us.”

Even Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly was fooled at first. Mattingly called the next hitter, Yasiel Puig, away from the plate while deciding whether to challenge the bang-bang play at first that retired Gordon. But while Mattingly was contemplating his next move, John Pratt, the Dodgers video coordinator, pointed to the play at second instead.

“Actually I didn’t see the tag to be honest with you,” Mattingly said after the game. “I thought the play at first was close and that’s why we kind of held Yasiel back. We called [Pratt] and checked on that. He said he tagged him without the ball in his glove so that’s when we really basically went out and talked about that.”

It took less than a minute for the umpires to agree on overturning a call that could wind up ending the Cardinals’ season.

“We had some chances and you can’t really pin it on one thing. But in games like this, with pitchers going at it like that, usually the little things do add up quick,” said Matheny, who will turn his focus to Game 3 on Monday in St. Louis.

“Getting out of here with that win, that was big for us,” he said of the 10-9 victory in Game 1 on Friday. “This one here is fresh on our minds, and it was there and we let it slip away. We’ve got to let that go and figure out how to put a good game one day after tomorrow.”