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Kozma takes disdain from Nats' fans as a compliment

Cardinals infielder had key hit vs. Washington in 2012 NLDS

WASHINGTON -- Pete Kozma insists he never did hear the boos raining down on him as he was introduced in a spring game at Space Coast Stadium last month in Viera, Fla. Several others picked up on it, however, and found humor that a player whose career has limited highlights still haunts one team's opposing fans.

It was Kozma, of course, who capped the Cardinals' improbable comeback victory over the Nationals in Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series. At the time of his game-winning, two-run single, he had just 92 Major League at-bats to his name. Since then, he's hit just .214 over 500 more.

But evidenced by another smattering of boos upon his appearance in Tuesday's game, some here in Washington still shudder at his name.

"I'm just glad they remember, more than anything," Kozma said.

"There is somebody in every city that seems to be on the hate list," manager Mike Matheny added. "The funny part about it is that these guys take that as a compliment. They love that stuff. If you've done something to agitate the opposing fans, as long as it's not something that's classless or out of character, but just because of performance, it's almost a compliment."

While Kozma's biggest hit may have come on that October night, he's actually had extraordinary success against the Nationals in general. A career .235 hitter, Kozma is 13-for-31 (.419/.441/.484) with five runs, six RBIs and one stolen base against Washington during the regular season. He entered Wednesday 6-for-16 at Nationals Park.

So why does he thrive against this club, in particular?

"I have no idea," Kozma said. "They throw a lot of strikes. I don't know what it is. I like the stadium. I feel like it's a good place to play. Everything about it -- from the clubhouse to the [batting] cage to the whole setup -- is good. The field is always in good shape. I feel comfortable in the box. Maybe I do see the ball better here."

Kozma was 1-for-1 with a stolen base in this series, going into Thursday's finale. Most of his days, though, are spent on the bench, where he remains a utility man waiting for an opportunity. In order to stay sharp defensively, Kozma schedules early work when the team is at home and bounces around the field during batting practice. He's getting reps at every infield spot, including first base, as well as in the outfield.

Worth noting

• Outfielder Peter Bourjos will rejoin the club in Milwaukee before Friday's series opener after a three-day absence on paternity leave. The Cardinals will have to make a roster move to clear a spot back for Bourjos.

• Infielder Alex Mejia was promoted to Triple-A Memphis after opening the year 9-for-27 with a .419 on-base percentage for Double-A Springfield. Mejia can play second, short or third for Memphis, which recently lost utility infielder Dean Anna to the Cardinals.

• On this date 16 years ago, St. Louis' Fernando Tatis became the first player in Major League history to hit two grand slams in one inning. Tatis hit both blasts off Dodgers starter Chan Ho Park. The feat has never been matched.

• Catcher Tony Cruz made his first start of the season Thursday as the Cardinals scripted a day off for Yadier Molina. That leaves Bourjos as the only position player on the Opening Day roster who has still not started a game.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB and like her Facebook
Read More: St. Louis Cardinals, Pete Kozma