Last resorts, unpredictable outcomes: Pete Kozma and the Cards
When Rafael Furcal went down with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow at the end of August, the St. Louis Cardinals’ season was fading fast. As the Cards continued to grasp at the second Wild Card spot, they would need to find a replacement for the shortstop, who had been hitting .264 with a .671 OPS and 49 RBIs.
With some of the Cardinals more highly touted shortstops not ready to take a spot on the Major League roster, St. Louis decided to bring up Pete Kozma, a former first round draft pick that looked like a career minor leaguer.
As the Cardinals have seen in about six weeks of play, however, the underwhelming expectations for Kozma were incorrect as he has played a big part in the Cards progression through the postseason.
Kozma will probably never become a household name, but what he will have—at the very least—is a postseason that he will always remember and fans around the world will envy.
Since being picked 18th in the 2007 amateur baseball draft, Kozma has played the better part of six mediocre seasons in the minor leagues. A career .236 hitter in the minors, Kozma had a slight improvement in his stats this past season when he returned to Triple-A Memphis for the second time.
Yet, under the lights of big league stadiums, Kozma broke through the casing of low expectations that followed him to the majors.
With just a month left in the regular season, Kozma helped the Cards stay in the heated race for the second wild Card spot, hitting .333 with a .952 OPS—an astounding outburst for someone who on average hit in the low .200s throughout his minor league career. In just 26 games, Kozma had 14 RBIs and five doubles, numbers that no one could have anticipated from the Tulsa, Okla. native.
“I feel like I’m seeing the same pitches, maybe the ball is falling a little more,” Kozma shrugged, when asked about his success. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m lucky here.”
While his average has dipped during the postseason, Kozma’s unexpected success story continued on Friday when he helped the Cardinals come back to take the National League Division Series and move on in the postseason.
In fact, Kozma found himself right in the middle of the Cards comeback when he came up to the plate in the ninth inning of Friday night’s game. With the Cardinals having overcome an early six-run deficit, the score was even at seven.
Every child who has ever played baseball has put themselves in the same scenario that Kozma faced. It’s a situation that pushes people to fall in love with baseball and can memorialize a player forever.
When Kozma came up to the plate with two outs and two runners on base, he lived the moment those children dream of. His line drive single to right gave St. Louis their first lead of the night, and ultimately gave them the win.
Kozma’s is another one of those baseball stories that invigorates fans’ love of the game. While the chances of him becoming a long-term starter for St. Louis are still slim, that one at-bat will permanently etch him into the baseball story book that keeps fans invested in players and memorializes why the game is more than just a game.
If he manages to come away with a World Series ring, his efforts might just give hope to all those that dream of the big stage and the chance to prove that one’s history does not define the present.