Major League Baseball: Pete Kozma ready for his close-up

Former Owasso standout opens the season as the St. Louis Cardinals' starting shortstop following a strong audition late last season.
by Michael Baldwin Published: March 31, 2013
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photo - St. Louis Cardinals' Pete Kozma, right, is congratulated by teammate Daniel Descalso after hitting a grand slam during the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game against the New York Mets Tuesday, March 26, 2013, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) ORG XMIT: FLVR110
St. Louis Cardinals' Pete Kozma, right, is congratulated by teammate Daniel Descalso after hitting a grand slam during the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game against the New York Mets Tuesday, March 26, 2013, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) ORG XMIT: FLVR110

Pete Kozma received glowing reviews following a brief audition for a lead role late last season with the St. Louis Cardinals.

After spending six years in the minors, Kozma is the Cardinals' starting shortstop heading into the 2013 season.

“Probably the best baseball we played (last year) was when we had Pete,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said during training camp after team officials announced Rafael Furcal was undergoing surgery and could miss the entire season. “That was very encouraging the way (Kozma) played.”

Kozma, from Owasso, was pressed into an emergency role late last season when Furcal was sidelined by an elbow injury.

Promoted to the majors on Aug. 31, Kozma hit .333 with a .569 slugging percentage in 75 at bats.

During the pressure of a pennant race, too.

Ten of his 24 hits went for extra bases.

Kozma also played a key role in the playoffs. He compiled nine postseason hits, highlighted by a go-ahead, two-run single during the Cardinals' dramatic four-run, ninth-inning rally to beat the Washington Nationals 9-7 in Game 5 of the National League division series.

Owasso coach Larry Turner returned home from a high-school football game just in time to watch Kozma's clutch hit in the winner-advances game, a game the Cardinals trailed 6-0 at one point.

“He lets that fastball go down the middle in the ninth. I was thinking, ‘Whoa,'” Turner said. “Then he gets that hit down the line to drive in two runs and I'm screaming, ‘Yes.' I felt so great for him.”

Six-time All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday, a Stillwater product, said you can't help but root for players like Kozma, who pay their dues.

“No doubt,” Holliday said. “Playing in the minor leagues isn't always easy. It takes perseverance. He showed them he's willing to put in the time to get an opportunity. He came up the year before but didn't get a lot of playing time. To see a player come up and make the most of it, you love to see that.”

Kozma, who turns 25 next week, had only 17 major league at bats before last year's late-season promotion. To play some of his best baseball during his first pennant race made an impression on his teammates.

“Without him, I don't think we make the playoffs in addition to the big (postseason) hits he had,” Holliday said. “He filled a need we had. He came up and played really well. He definitely opened some eyes, definitely caught people's attention.”

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by Michael Baldwin
Reporter
Mike Baldwin has been a sports reporter for The Oklahoman since 1982. Mike graduated from Okmulgee High School in 1974 and attended Oklahoma Christian University, graduating with a journalism degree in 1978. Mike's first job was sports editor...
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