CHICAGO — Tony Wolters waited and waited as the NL wild-card game went deep into Tuesday night. He stretched a couple of times and tried to figure out when he might get a chance to play.
When that opportunity arrived, he was ready.
Wolters hit a tiebreaking single with two outs in the 13th inning and the Colorado Rockies outlasted the Chicago Cubs 2-1 at Wrigley Field in the longest win-or-go-home postseason game in major league history.
“Probably the biggest hit I’ve ever had, that’s for sure,” he said.
The 26-year-old Wolters, claimed off waivers from Cleveland in 2016, entered as part of a double switch in the bottom of the 12th. The reserve catcher came up with runners at the corners and drove in Trevor Story with a two-strike hit back up the middle off losing pitcher Kyle Hendricks, quieting the crowd of 40,151 on a crisp fall night.
After playing its third big game over three days in three different cities, Colorado now heads to Milwaukee to open a best-of-five Division Series against the NL Central champion Brewers on Thursday.
“We didn’t make it easy on ourselves, that’s for sure,” Story said, “but we’re going to enjoy this one tonight and we’re definitely not done.”
Scott Oberg, the sixth Colorado pitcher, fanned Kris Bryant for the final out of the 12th and then struck out the side in the 13th to end the longest postseason game at 104-year-old Wrigley. Terrance Gore tried to sell that he was hit by a pitch, but was sent back to the plate after a replay review confirmed the initial call.
After Albert Almora Jr. struck out swinging for the final out, Wolters ran out and grabbed Oberg. They were soon joined by the rest of the excited Rockies in a rollicking purple mob near the mound.
“You’re always wondering, `How’s this going to end?’ But our guys fought all night and to be able to get that last out there was great,” Oberg said.
Wolters got his first hit since Sept. 10 in his playoff debut, and it was just the second postseason game for Oberg. Previously, the longest winner-take-all games in the postseason were 12-inning affairs in the 2014 AL wild-card round and Game 7 of the 1924 World Series.
This one lasted 4 hours, 55 minutes, and had pretty much everything, too. Hendricks was the third starting pitcher used by the Cubs, after Jon Lester worked six solid innings and Cole Hamels was pressed into action after the teams were tied at 1 through nine. Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado exchanged a memorable hug with Javier Baez after he tagged the excitable Cubs star in the 11th.
Colorado moved on to the Division Series for the first time since 2009. The Rockies lost to Arizona in the NL wild-card game a year ago.
“Such a crazy game,” Story said.
The Cubs made it to the NLCS in each of the previous three seasons, winning the 2016 World Series to break a 108-year drought, but they were plagued by an inconsistent offense all season long. Chicago finished with six hits and left 10 runners on base after managing only three hits in Monday’s 3-1 home loss to the Brewers in the NL Central tiebreaker.
“We played that game a lot,” said manager Joe Maddon, who matched a postseason record by using 23 players. “Believe me, it was on my mind for a large part of it.”
This time, it was Kyle Freeland cruising through Maddon’s lineup.
Starting on three days’ rest for the first time in the pros, Freeland struck out six in 6 2/3 scoreless innings. The Denver native looked quite comfortable in his first career playoff appearance, helping his hometown team bounce back from Monday’s NL West tiebreaker loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles.
“Sometimes you just get beat and we got beat tonight,” Lester said.
Lester helped Chicago stick around by matching a career playoff high with nine strikeouts in his 26th postseason appearance. But he took a little while to settle into the game, and the Rockies took advantage.
Charlie Blackmon led off with a five-pitch walk. DJ LeMahieu followed with a ground-rule double on a 3-2 pitch — with the ball getting stuck in the famed ivy in left-center — and Arenado’s sacrifice fly drove in Blackmon.
Lester then limited the damage by striking out Story and Matt Holliday with LeMahieu on third.
That one run looked as if it might hold up as Freeland cruised into the seventh. After Story robbed Daniel Murphy of a hit with a diving grab at shortstop, manager Bud Black replaced Freeland with Adam Ottavino.
The Cubs got another chance when Anthony Rizzo singled with two outs in the eighth, and Maddon went for it. He ran for his star first baseman with the speedy Gore, who promptly swiped second.
Ottavino had an 0-2 count on Baez when his third pitch got too much of the plate. The free-swinging slugger drove it into the gap in left-center for a tying double , easily scoring Gore from second and sending a charge through the crowd.
Hitters had been 0 for 36 against Ottavino with an 0-2 count this year.
“I think this is a classic,” Black said. “I think this will go down as a Major League Baseball classic. … And it’s awesome that a number of these fellas will always remember this game.”
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