It was one of those jaw-dropping moments. One that I couldn’t believe had actually happened, no matter how many times I watched the highlights.
It was Game 4 of the 2013 World Series. The Cardinals, who held a 2-1 series lead over the Red Sox, were threatening to run away with it. Although they were down 4-2 in the ninth inning, they had the tying run at the plate, with the bat in the hands of power-hitter Carlos Beltran. But, as fate would have it, Beltran never had a chance to even the score. Kolten Wong, who came in as a pinch runner, was picked off by Boston’s closer Koji Uehara to end the game. No postseason game had ever ended on a pickoff.
But it wasn’t about that one play, or one game. The momentum of the entire series shifted the second Wong was called out. Instead of falling behind 3 games to 1, the Sox evened it up. For those of you who don’t know what happened (and, unlike some of us, don’t live and breathe Red Sox), the rest was history. Boston went on to win the next two games and capture its eighth World Series championship.
But while it was all smiles and Duckboat parades in Beantown, Wong was haunted by the gaffe that cost his team a possible win. It was a devastating end to what had been a promising rookie season.
“That pickoff definitely crushed me for a long time,” he said. Fortunately, it didn’t keep him down.
Three days ago, he hit a two-run homerun to lead the Cardinals to a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series (the Cardinals went on to win Game 4 and will advance to the NLCS). Wong has turned things around and, oddly, he credits a lot of that to the misstep that cost him so much a year ago.
“It was something that I definitely look back and I’m not thankful for it, but I know it made me stronger as a person and as a player,” he said. “Once you go through something like that, everything else is a walk in the park.”
Strange words coming from someone who had a very slow and painful walk out of a ballpark. But perhaps the strangest thing in all of this is that it isn’t strange. In fact, that makes perfect sense. Once you’ve hit rock bottom and survived, you realize it can’t get any worse, and it takes a whole lot of pressure off your shoulders.
When I read about Wong, I immediately thought of a particular day back in the summer of 2012. My babies were about eight weeks old — the point at which most new moms feel more comfortable in their role — and I was barely treading water. It was a Thursday afternoon, and I had just learned that my application for long-term disability benefits had been denied. With the medical bills piling up (my twins had to spend 3 weeks in the NICU), we had been counting on those funds. So after successfully putting both babies down for a nap, I called the Department of Labor to give them a piece of my sleep-deprived mind, thinking I might get to speak with an actual person.
By the time they called back, both babies were awake and cranky, and I was attempting to feed my daughter her bottle. About 10 minutes into the call — during which I was informed my doctor’s office had failed to sign off on the necessary paperwork that I had hand-delivered to them — Scarlett’s reflux kicked in, covering me and my benefits folder in formula.
I was going to have to get them back on the phone, figure out the problem, solve it, and resubmit the paperwork. And get a new couch cover. And spend another 45 minutes feeding Scarlett a new bottle, all while crossing my fingers that Austin didn’t start wailing.
It was the type of situation that would’ve sent me running for the hills under any other circumstances, but for some reason, I just laughed. I remember thinking, ‘Well, this can’t really get any worse.’
I cleaned up the first mess, and eventually the second, but that day, something shifted. The little things didn’t seem to weigh as heavily on me. By the time I finally received that check from the government, I had established somewhat of a routine with the babies. And when something threw me off my game, I was able to shrug it off. I knew — compared to that one day — everything else was a walk in the park.