MOOSIC, Pennsylvania — After Kean Wong floated home following his go-ahead grand slam, he stopped at the plate to look up.
“That was for my mom, [Keala], who passed away from cancer,” he said. “Just want to tell my mom I love her.”
During a game which featured a delay to “Stand Up to Cancer,” Wong’s heavy heart was his inspiration.
“It definitely is an emotional time,” said Durham manager Jared Sandberg, who also has been affected by cancer. “For him to latch onto that and get a couple hits and think of his mom in a situation like that and be that emotional and be able to pick us up is a pretty amazing moment.”
The grand slam proved to be the deciding blow as Wong went 3-for-4, fell a triple shy of the cycle and led the Bulls to a 5-3 come-from-behind win over Memphis in the Triple-A National Championship at PNC Field.
“I’m always surprised when I hit a home run. I’m not a home run hitter,” Wong said. “I was just trying to put the barrel on the ball and try to help the team win. I was happy for us to get the lead and I knew my pitching staff was going to shut them down. They’re a good team, but I knew our pitching staff was going to be good.”
Wong singled to left field in the first inning but was thrown out by right fielder Jose Adolis Garcia when he tried to take third on a single by Rays No. 2 prospect Willy Adames. The 22-year-old added a double to left in the third before slugging a go-ahead slam with two outs in the fourth.
“He had a grand slam earlier this season, which was a huge hit for us,” Sandberg said. “But for him to do it on this stage, a one-game playoff, offensively, defensively [was even better].”
The manager said he worked with Wong in the Arizona Fall League last year to prepare for Major League shifts. The second baseman put those efforts on display against Memphis. In the seventh, Wong reached for a ball in the shortstop hole and made a leaping throw to first for the out. And in the eighth, the Hawaii native tumbled into center field to rob Aledmys Diaz of a hit with an over-the-shoulder catch.
“Just trying to help the team win, give up my body to catch the ball,” he said. “And the backhand, I could’ve set my feet, but I wanted to jump to show I could do a little bit.”
After Wong put them in front, the Bulls turned the ball over to a familiar face in an unfamiliar spot. Brent Honeywell came on in the sixth for his first relief appearance since his first pro season with Rookie-level Princeton. The Rays’ top prospect worked around a hit and a walk in 2 2/3 scoreless innings for the win, striking out one.
“That’s exciting for not only us in the dugout, the Rays organization, but also the industry of baseball to see Brent Honeywell in another [appearance]after the Futures Game, the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars last year,” Sandberg said. “He’s pitched some short stints in some big games and he’s been dominant.”
Durham improved to 2-1 in the 12-year history of the Triple-A National Championship, with two of those wins coming against Memphis. Wong tied records in the showcase with three hits and four RBIs.
“The National Championship is definitely the icing on the cake. To win the division, to win the league championship is what everyone’s goal is,” Sandberg said. “But then you get here and it’s a one-game playoff, and anything can happen in a one-game situation. So for us to be in this situation and take home the National Championship and be crowned the best team in Triple-A is pretty amazing.”
As Wong finished his postgame session with the media, Adames burst in with a bottle of Champagne.
“We waiting on you,” he said. “Let’s go, man.”
Wong ran past a box of Chipotle catering boxes, past the Governors’ Cup and into a celebratory shower of beer and Champagne.
“Popping Champagne never gets old,” Sandberg said.
Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.