Pete Kozma has a defining moment everyone brings up the first time they meet the Owasso product.
After the shortstop was called up by the St. Louis Cardinals near the end of his Triple-A season two years ago, Kozma produced a go-ahead, two-run single in the top of the ninth in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. Kozma’s hit helped St. Louis advance to the NL Championship Series.
“I’ve seen the moment hundreds of times, but I’ve never actually seen the game broadcast,” Kozma said before the Memphis Redbirds played the RedHawks Friday night at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. “This winter I plan to go back and watch the entire game.”
Kozma’s hit capped an improbable four-run, ninth-inning rally against Washington. St. Louis fell behind 6-0 in the winner-take-all game but rallied to win 9-7.
“We started chipping away, and then we have a huge rally in the ninth,” Kozma said. “The bases are loaded. Daniel Descalso squares one up, driving it up the middle to score two runs to tie it. I’m up next. It’s something people bring up all the time.”
Kozma, 26, said he was surprised by the promotion two years ago after the Cardinals lost shortstop Rafael Furcal to an elbow injury.
After the promotion on Aug. 31, Kozma hit .333 with a .569 slugging percentage in 75 September at bats to earn some post-season playing time.
“We were four days away from our Triple-A season ending,” Kozma said. “I had everything all packed up ready to go home, then I got the call to go up. That was so exciting. Everybody wants to be in the big leagues.”
Kozma, who was a first-round pick and the 18th overall selection in the 2007 draft, Kozma seized the momentum from his 2012 postseason heroics to open 2013 as St. Louis’ starting shortstop.
Kozma confirmed the Cardinals’ confidence in him by hitting .340 in spring training. He was with the Cardinals all season but ended up hitting .217 in 410 at-bats.
Eighteen months after his memorable two-run single, Kozma is back in Triple-A where he was Memphis’ starting third baseman Thursday night. His fate essentially was sealed during the offseason when the Cardinals signed veteran shortstop Jhonny Peralta.
“It’s out of my control,” Kozma said. “There’s really nothing I can do about it. I just have to keep grinding every day like I always have.”
A career .235 hitter in roughly 2,500 minor league at bats, Kozma is trying to carve out a utility role to reach the majors, whether it’s with St. Louis or another organization. In addition to playing short and second base, he’s playing some at third.
“I think my resume speaks for itself,” Kozma said. “I feel I would be a good addition to any ballclub.”
His Owasso roots are something he cherishes. During his four seasons, the Rams reached the state title game all four years, winning two state two titles in addition to two runner-up finishes.
“I was born and raised in Owasso,” Kozma said. “It’s a huge baseball town, a great place to play. It’s almost like a football following. It was a lot of fun, something I’ll always remember.”
Kozma still lives in the Tulsa area. During the offseason he works out with several minor league players such as Jackson Williams (Rockies Triple-A), Parker Frazier (White Sox Double-A), Andy Wilkins (White Sox Double-A) and David Chester (Red Sox Class-A).
“There’s a lot of us. Jeff Reynolds is from Harvard and just moved to the Tulsa area, too,” Kozma said of the New York Mets prospect. “All of us work out together at ORU. It helps you keep that competitive edge you need in the offseason. It’s really beneficial for all of us.”
After the Cardinals signed Peralta, Kozma essentially is injury insurance. Kozma said he hopes his 2012 postseason run, and playing in the majors in 2013, will lead to another opportunity. The first month with Memphis, Kozma is hitting .219 with two homers.
“I just try to keep everything the same no matter what team I’m playing for, whether that’s Memphis or St. Louis,” Kozma said.
“I’m just trying to stay the course, play solid defense, have good at-bats and put good swings on the ball. If they need me (in St. Louis), hopefully I’ll get a call here sometime soon.”