(TNS) — Left knee surgery ended Tony Wolters' 2015 campaign. He was waived the following spring. He'd already bounced from the middle infield to behind the plate in search of a path forward. He'd waited 12 innings to get into his first postseason game Tuesday night.
Indeed, Wolters had been well-versed in patience when Kyle Hendricks' 1-2 change-up fluttered toward the outside corner of the plate.
The ensuing hit made him an unlikely hero as the Colorado Rockies punched their ticket to the National League Division Series.
"That was," Wolters told reporters after his 13th-inning RBI single gave the Rockies a 2-1 win over the Cubs, "probably the biggest hit I've ever had, that's for sure."
Of course, that sort of thing is easy to catalogue at this stage in Wolters' career.
The 26-year-old converted catcher had played in 228 games since the Rockies rescued him off the Indians' discard pile. He did not appear in last year's wild-card game and closed this season in an 0-for-15 rut.
He had not collected a hit since Sept. 10. His .170 batting average over 74 games this year was fifth-lowest in the majors among players with at least 180 plate appearances.
Yet there was Wolters in the 13th inning looking to extend a two-out rally with runners on the corners.
"These guys keep me confident," Wolters said. "They're my brothers and they're my support group. They're my second family. This game can kick your butt sometimes. There's a lot of adversity, but ... I'm not ever going to let that take me down."
Wolters watched a first-pitch change-up called a strike. He missed the next. After laying off a high fastball, Wolters punched a groundball through the middle of the infield to plate Trevor Story as the go-ahead run.
At first base, Wolters _ a defensive replacement an inning earlier _ smiled through clenched teeth as he clapped his hands emphatically.
It was a look that Leo Fletes, Wolters' high school coach at California's Rancho Buena Vista had come to know well, particularly as Wolters led RBV to a CIF championship berth as a junior.
The two exchanged texts after Tuesday's game.
"It just took you back to the high school days when he was so clutch," said Fletes, now an assistant principal at La Costa Canyon High School. "One of the conversations we had last night was, 'Tony, that swing, that base-hit was so reminiscent of what you did at RBV. That's what got you to where you are.'
"Wherever you are, you dial back and go back to your roots."
The Indians' third-round pick in 2010, Wolters had committed to University of San Diego when he opted to go pro.
That career started as a shortstop in a system loaded with up-the-middle talent (Francisco Lindor was drafted a year after Wolters), continued behind the plate at Terry Francona's suggestion in the spring of 2013 and was stalled two years later as he underwent surgery to repair the lateral and medial ligaments in his left knee.
Three years into his stay as the Rockies' backup catcher, Wolters finally has a career-defining moment.
His current teammates couldn't be happier for him.
"Tony's like everybody's little brother," Rockies manager Bud Black said Tuesday night. "He's the guy that _ the guy that everybody looks out for and sort of just keeps their eye on because Tony can sort of run astray a little bit. But they love him. They love Tony because Tony I mean truly cares about each and every one of those guys and those guys feel that. He's a great teammate. He's unselfish. He just cares about the Rockies. Which is awesome. And those guys feel his genuine feeling about this team and about each and every game trying to win the game and it's great when those types of players respond and do something like this.
"I mean it's the little brother, man, doing something great and they love it."