Going into the 13th inning of the National League Wild Card game, the Colorado Rockies came to bat while locked in a 1-1 tie with the Chicago Cubs.
After DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado were retired, a Trevor Story single through the left side of the infield extended the inning. A Gerardo Parra single advanced Story to third, and in stepped catcher Tony Wolters.
Before Tuesday night, Wolters was hitless in his last 15 at-bats and averaged a measly .170 batting average in 74 games this season. But that didn’t matter in this situation. It came down to Wolters and Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks.
After working the count to 1-2, Hendricks had a chance to finish Wolters and give the Cubs another chance to walk the Rockies off in the bottom half of the inning, but then ‘Rocktober’ happened. Wolters roped a single up the middle, giving the Rockies their first run in over four hours and their first lead since the eighth inning.
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) October 3, 2018
The Rockies were able to hold on in the bottom half of the inning, and Wolters immediately became a hero, carved into the stone of history. The craziest part of Wolters’ performance is that he had to sit around for 11 innings before being inserted into the game. Chris Iannetta started the game for the Rockies and played seven innings before Drew Butera was inserted in a double-switch with pitcher Adam Ottavino. After a passed ball and costly error on catcher’s interference, Rockies fans were slowly starting to wonder why Wolters was still on the bench and Butera was behind the dish. It took a double-switch with Scott Oberg in the 12th inning to give Wolters the opportunity to finally make his mark, which he did from the get-go.
I've posted before about @TonyWolters of the @Rockies before in regards to his ability to work down to up through the ball on tough low pitches. Watch where his glove starts its approach and the fluidity through the pitch. Truly impressive. pic.twitter.com/F1mFxqJlKk
— DNA Catching (@dnacatching) October 3, 2018
Hitting the game-winning RBI was one thing, but the defensive play spotlighted above was just as big when you look at the grand scheme of things. Wolters does an incredible job “picking the tissue,” and stealing a strike-three call against one of the Cubs’ best hitters in Kris Bryant. This play hasn’t gotten the notoriety it should’ve, considering how big a strikeout it was. If Bryant gets on base, it puts the winning run on first and gives the Cubs all the momentum with the home crowd behind them. Wolters didn’t let that happen though, as his incredible framing ability was on full display when the Rockies needed him most.
After acquiring Wolters in 2016 courtesy of a Spring Training waiver claim from the Cleveland Indians, the Rockies were taking a chance on an infielder-turned-catcher. The Rockies can thank Terry Francona for that one, as the Indians’ manager was the one who had the idea to move Wolters behind the dish.
It’s never easy to switch positions, especially when you’ve already made it to the highest level, but Wolters handled it like a pro. As a left-handed hitter who catches right-handed, the catching position was a natural fit for Wolters, as he quickly became one of the best pitch-framers in baseball. After making the Rockies’ opening day roster in 2016, he appeared in 71 games that season as the backup to starting catcher Nick Hundley.
Even though his bat has always lagged behind, Wolters’ defensive ability has allowed him to become a favorite to more than one of the Rockies’ pitchers. Wolters often catches starters German Marquez and Jon Gray, and has slowly built a reputation as a solid game-caller behind the dish. This is something Wolters takes pride in, and it’s something he outlined in a interview with Nick Groke of the Denver Post last season.
“Catching is all about being unselfish and working with guys and really just respecting who you’re working with,” Wolters said. “You have to take yourself out of it and think, ‘I’m helping you in your career. Trust me. I’m putting 100 percent into it.’ That’s the one thing I love about catching. I like helping others.”
That unselfishness has allowed Wolters to morph into a clubhouse favorite, which became even clearer in this tweet that came out last night.
How respected is Tony Wolters in the #Rockies clubhouse? When the team presented Chad Bettis with a bottle of Macallan scotch whiskey in May, in observance of the one-year anniversary of his final chemotherapy treatment, it was Wolters who spoke for the team. @MLB @MLBNetwork
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) October 3, 2018
The idea that the Rockies gave Wolters the keys to the kingdom in that moment is special. It shows the respect his teammates have for him, and it shows just how important his presence is within that Rockies’ clubhouse.
The ride certainly hasn’t been easy for Wolters, as he’s had to work for everything he’s earned. But that’s what makes playoff baseball so special — you never know who’s going to step up and make the big play. In this case it was Wolters, and when you look back at his story, you realize how it couldn’t have happened to a better person.
Wolters’ RBI single will go down as one of the greatest moments in Rockies’ franchise history — and thanks to him, Colorado is heading to Milwaukee to face the Brewers in game One of the NLDS Thursday afternoon.