Fundamental Wolters shows flair for dramatic

Catcher makes two key defensive plays, drives in go-ahead run vs. Bucs

Fundamental Wolters shows flair for dramatic

PITTSBURGH -- Catcher Tony Wolters' artful defense gave the Rockies a chance to win Saturday. So he didn't mind helping deliver a 5-1 win over the Pirates with an inelegant hit in the top of the ninth.

Wolters prevented a run in the fourth with a knee-drop that blocked Jung Ho Kang from the plate -- legally, as replay ruled. He ended the eighth, when he retrieved the ball after Carlos Estevez's fastball squirted from his mitt and threw out Matt Joyce trying to advance.

Wolters, 23, a rookie who had not played above Double-A before this year, has stimulated the analytics community with his pitch-framing numbers. But plays like those Saturday are living, breathing celebrations of catching acumen.

Wolters hasn't been nearly as successful offensively, as his .192 average indicates. But with the score tied and two on in the ninth, his bouncer hit the first-base bag to drive in one run. Another run scored when Pirates first baseman John Jaso, who nearly barehanded the carom, could not handle the rebound for what was ruled an error.

"He's not afraid of the big moment," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "He's come up with some big hits and he's come up with some big plays. Scrambling to get that ball and throw the guy out at second base, that was a big play, too.

"He's got a flair for stepping up."

Wolters throws out Joyce

The Indians selected Wolters in 2010 in the third round out of Lake Buena Vista High in Vista, Calif., as a middle infielder. But the conversion to catching in 2013 has put him in the middle of everything.

"I just take it as I'm doing my job," Wolters said. "I'm trying to make every play, help the pitcher out, trying to put the ball in play, control the barrel, trying to make things happen. The team came together."

The tag on Kang saved a run in an inning when the Pirates later scored to tie the game at 1.

Joyce bounced to second baseman DJ LeMahieu, whose low throw reached Wolters just before Kang made it home.

Kang thrown out at home

The rule changes are designed to discourage catchers from anchoring in front of the plate, and at the same time stop runners from plowing football-style to score. But a catcher can enter the basepath for the throw and, once he has the ball, obstruct part of the plate. Wolters used fundamentals that have been legal and encouraged for generations.

"I knew it was going to be a close one, so I just got low with the ball, dropped the knee and gave him half the plate," Wolters said. "I felt the plate [cut] in half. I knew I gave him half the plate."

Home-plate umpire Doug Eddings ruled Kang out immediately.

Plays at the plate are more art than science.

"It's not like, 'Step here, step here, then tag,'" Wolters said. "You have to feel out the throw."

The throw that erased Joyce required Wolters to remain calm.

"I knew the ball was close to me," Wolters said. "Joyce wasn't the fastest guy. He got a good jump, but I just slowed the game down. I looked for the ball. The umpire had it right in front of his feet. I just picked it up, found a good seam and threw it as hard as I could."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.