October 5, 2022

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Wong leads Crew with clutch homer in 1,000th career game

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MIAMI — Kolten Wong knew what batting leadoff on Sunday afternoon meant. He’d be the first one stepping to the plate to kick off his 1,000th Major League game.

“It’s not easy, you know, to be in the big leagues for this long,” Wong said pregame. “I’m going to just make sure I don’t do anything to screw it up.”

He definitely didn’t “screw it up,” instead delivering the game-tying home run in the 7-3 series-finale victory over the Marlins at loanDepot park. Wong had a remarkable day at the plate, going 2-for-2 and reaching base in all five of his plate appearances (three walks). He also swiped second base twice, improving to eight steals on the year.

Part of the 31-year-old’s success centered around his patience. As the leadoff batter, Wong wanted to make sure he had a good approach against Miami’s Elieser Hernandez in order to give his teammates a sense of Hernandez’s stuff.

“Not be over-aggressive,” Wong said, “because I feel like that’s kind of been my Achilles’ heel this year — being too aggressive and not really being a leadoff guy that I should be. So [I was] just trying to work them a little more, be more selective and try to drive balls.”

That patience not only enabled him to walk those three times, but it also contributed to arguably the most pivotal at-bat of the game: his fifth-inning swing that left the park and tied the game, 3-3. Wong stepped to the plate behind Jace Peterson, who went yard to lead off the inning. The back-to-back homers created a palpable shift in the atmosphere inside loanDepot park — it was eerily quiet as Wong rounded the bases.

The homer marked Wong’s second long ball of the series in Miami, after he hit a leadoff home run in the series opener Friday (on the second pitch of the game). Sunday’s fifth inning was the third time that Milwaukee’s offense hit back-to-back home runs this year. Wong attributed the shift in tempo that inning to Peterson’s knock.

“Honestly, when Jace did that it kind of just lit a spark in everybody,” Wong said. “When you have somebody that leads off with a good at-bat, you want to follow the same way. We both had good at-bats and, you know, sometimes that’s what it takes to kind of get contagious.”

Wong’s big day came less than 24 hours after manager Craig Counsell gave him a day off. The shortstop admitted postgame that being on the bench for Saturday’s loss may have proverbially lit a fire under him.

“I’m definitely not a guy that wants to be sitting down,” Wong said. “When I get those days off, I’m not taking them lightly. … I want to be a guy that plays 150, 160 games — that’s been my goal since Day One, one I haven’t reached yet. So I’m hoping this year is the year.”

But Wong didn’t just show up against the Marlins. Over the Brewers’ nine-game road trip, which started on May 6 and concluded with Sunday’s matinee, Wong went 10-for-27 (.370 average) with two homers — both in Miami — and three RBIs.

“He had a wonderful game and really set the tone today,” Counsell said. “He got off to a little bit of a slow start this year, but I think he had a really good road trip and is feeling really good at the plate, as you can see.”

Wong, who made his big league debut in 2013 with the Cardinals, is one of nine active players born in Hawaii. Included in that list is his younger brother Kean, who debuted in 2019 with the Rays and is currently in the Angels’ system (Triple-A Salt Lake).

After spending eight years with the Cardinals, who drafted him with the 22nd overall pick of the 2011 MLB Draft out of the University of Hawaii, Wong signed a two-year contract with the Brewers on Feb. 5, 2021, which includes a club option for 2023.

“This is not something that’s taken for granted for me,” Wong said on playing his 1,000th game. “Ever since I got to the big leagues, it’s always been an honor for me to be here. I never took a day for granted and I just tried to continue to play hard and do what I could to stay up here.”

For Wong, beyond playing well in the Majors and finding success for himself, being able to be a role model for young kids back home in Hawaii is “everything.”

“That’s kind of what I’ve been wanting to do,” Wong said. “Just kind of create that wave of showing these kids that it’s a possibility.”

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