From postseason hero to Triple-A callup, Kozma not fazed
Versatile infielder earns one of Cardinals' last roster spots for NLDS vs. Dodgers
LOS ANGELES -- First there was Pete Kozma, Cardinals postseason hero of 2012. Then there was Kozma, St. Louis infield contributor in '13. Now there's Kozma, September callup from Triple-A turned surprise last-minute roster addition for the '14 National League Division Series.
For a guy with so many twists and turns in his personal storyline, the latest bit of narrative drama doesn't seem to faze him a bit.
"I'm ready to play," said Kozma, who could get the start at second base in Friday night's Game 1 by virtue of his right-handed bat and his 4-for-8 career line with three doubles and three RBIs against Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw.
"You play to be in the big leagues and to get into the postseason," Kozma said. "This is where I want to be."
This was also not a certainty, by any stretch of the imagination.
Kozma is well-known in the lore of St. Louis playoff baseball for the two-run single that gave the Cards a stunning 9-7 victory over the Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS two years ago, a game in which St. Louis came back from six runs behind early, two runs behind in the ninth inning and was down to its last strike five times.
Kozma started 113 games at shortstop and played in the postseason in 2013, but last offseason, the Cardinals decided that Kozma wasn't the answer at the position and signed free-agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53 million contract. Kozma hoped to stick around as a utility man, but the Cards also had youngster Kolten Wong and veteran Mark Ellis in the mix for second-base duty. Kozma made the team out of Spring Training this year only because Ellis was on the disabled list, and he was eventually sent to Triple-A Memphis, where he put up a line of .248/.330/.372 in 379 at-bats.
"It was an adjustment being in the Minors after being in the big leagues for a few years," Kozma said. "But that's the way it was, and I'm here now."
Actually, he's been here since late August. Kozma was called back up on Aug. 31 and played throughout September, impressing the club once again with his versatility.
"Pete Kozma is a very grounded, well-rounded baseball player and brings a lot of athleticism and instinct to the game," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We put him in a tough spot this year, realizing that there wasn't going to be a lot of opportunity. There really wasn't, with how Jhonny Peralta has played all season, especially at shortstop, and Kolten Wong, how he came along at second base.
"Pete took his [Triple-A] assignment like a pro and had a strong season, and since he's been back has done a good job with us. And he's a very valuable weapon for us, because he can play such strong defense and multiple positions and what he's able to do putting together tough at-bats this time of year, for whatever reason."
Kozma doesn't talk much and wouldn't reveal any special plans for preparing for Kershaw if he gets that assignment on Friday. He said he'll just watch video, as always, look for tendencies, and remember to be aggressive when the right pitch comes.
Kozma also said there's no great secret to having success in the postseason.
"It's not really slowing down the game," Kozma said. "It's more about just treating it like it's not really that big of a deal, I guess. It's the same game."