Cardinals’ Pete Kozma comes through again with season on line

David Brown
Big League Stew

ST. LOUIS — If it's Game 5 of the NLDS, it must be Pete Kozma.

Like he did a year ago when the St. Louis Cardinals faced elimination, Kozma came through with a big game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night. His contribution this time might not have been as dramatic as in 2012, when the Cardinals fell behind by six runs and were down to their last out against the Nationals before Kozma provided the go-ahead hit, but just as much was on the line.

In addition to an RBI single that capped the St. Louis scoring in a 6-1 victory, Kozma made a pair of amazing defensive plays in the fourth inning, when the game's outcome still was in doubt.

Being positioned for Neil Walker to pull the ball to right field helped, but Kozma still had to range far to his own left before making an all-out dive on the edge of the outfield grass — and well to the left of the second-base bag — to catch Walker's oddly hit flare for the first out. Cards ace Adam Wainwright raised both arms and screamed in appreciation. Second baseman Matt Carpenter, who had cut off a sharp route to the ball and was running into the outfield for damage control, raised a fist for Kozma as well.

Kozma was understated about it: "I haven't looked at the tape, but I felt like I ran pretty far."

One out later, Kozma again was positioned for Justin Morneau to hit the ball to right field — but he didn't, instead slapping a grounder deep in the hole at short. Kozma never broke stride as he got to the ball, switched it to his right hand and fired accurately, slightly off balance and semi-blindly, to retire Morneau at first base. That play was Kozma's favorite of the two because of the number of maneuvers required to pull it off.

"Definitely the play in the hole, the ball on the ground," Kozma said. "Not only do you have to catch it, but I've got to get my feet under me and make a good throw.

"I don't think I've ever caught two balls in the same inning like that."

Kozma's regular season was ordinary, even disappointing for him, and Daniel Descalso got more playing time down the stretch. Kozma didn't even start the first game of the Pirates series. But at a crucial moment of the division series — again — he was superior. Wainwright was still buzzing about Kozma after the game.

"Pete was amazing today," Wainwright said. "His defense was great. He struggled some at the plate this year and we trusted him and kept throwing him out there because he's defensively very, very good, and we knew his bat would come around.

"Down the stretch last year, if we didn't have Pete Kozma on our team, we didn't get to where we got. Today I was so proud of him."

Kozma was asked a few dozen times, probably, how he finds the extra gear for the playoffs — at least this round of them.

"I don't know what it is," Kozma said, "but the fans are into it every pitch, here and on the road. This is why we play the game, it's what everybody hopes for. We're going out there and treat every game like it's our last."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post referred to a "Doug Descalso." Nobody knows who that is.

The postseason marches on!
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