ST. LOUIS — Shortstop Pete Kozma, almost an afterthought as the regular season wore down, was front and center for the St. Louis Cardinals in their 6-1 win over Pittsburgh in Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Wednesdsay.
Kozma struggled at the plate all season (.217) and yielded playing time to Daniel Descalso as the season wound down. But he hit .400 (4-for-10) in the series and made two strong defensive plays in the Game 5 victory.
He drove in an insurance run in the eighth, four innings after diving to his left to rob Neil Walker of a hit in the fourth, then going into the hole one out later to throw out Justin Morneau.
"He comes through today with another big RBI, and he still looks really good at the plate," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "But you can see the plays he's making, especially when he goes in the hole, he makes that play about as good as anybody in the league."
Kozma said he had no explanation for his success in the postseason; he was a key player for the Cards in the 2012 playoffs, with a key two-run single in their come-from-behind Game 5 division series win by a 9-7 score in Washington.
"I have no idea. I couldn't tell you. This is why we play. Once again, this is why we play," said Kozma, who said his play on Morneau was tougher than the play on Walker. "Definitely the one to my right in the hole.
"The ball was on the ground. I don't have to just catch it, I have to catch it, get my feet under me and make a good throw over there to first."
Aside from his strong play defensively, Matheny said Kozma looks better at the plate after yielding to Descalso late in the regular season.
"I'm watching Pete walk into the batter's box with a lot of confidence right now," Matheny said. "Defensively, there's never been a question what Pete can do and how well of a job he's done for us at shortstop.
"So with that in mind, we just want to continue to try to keep that positive momentum that he has offensively and put him in this lineup to help make an impact somewhere."
* Cards leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter was 0-for-4 but was robbed on a diving catch by Starling Marte down the left-field line in the third. He also sent center fielder Andrew McCutchen to the warning track with a hard-hit drive in the fifth, and worked the count for three of his four at-bats. Carpenter finished the series 1-for-19, an .053 batting mark.
* The Cardinals' defensive positioning led to three outs for the Pirates in the early going: Carpenter was perfectly shifted between first and second to snag Pedro Alvarez' line drive to start a 4-3 double play in the second, and Kozma was cheating up the middle when he dove for Walker's liner in the fourth.
* Jon Jay's RBI single in the sixth snapped a 1-for-19 skid for the Cardinals batters while hitting with runners in scoring position. The hit, which scored Matt Holliday from second after a walk to Yadier Molina, gave the Cardinals three two-out runs in the early going of the game -- all of them after two-out walks from the Pirates pitchers.
* Wainwright didn't allow a Pirates runner to reach scoring position until Kozma's ill-advised throw to first on a soft grounder behind second by Marlon Byrd in the seventh. Kozma could have tossed the ball to Carpenter at second to force Morneau, but opted instead for the tardy throw to first.
No time for a pep talk
Matheny didn't have a team meeting before the game, saying he thought his players were ready for the challenge.
"I'd be big on it if I thought it was necessary," the second-year manager said.
"I've said this before: I'm not big on team meetings just to have meetings," Matheny continued. "But if something is missing, something is lacking --especially the things that we can control like our concentration or effort ... Obviously, from our last game, those aren't issues."
Preparations for the game Wednesday were much like the regular season.
"We've got meetings today as far as the same things we always do," Matheny said before the game. "We meet with the pitchers and with the starters about the game plan for the day, looking at our hitters against the starter. But as far as the big get-together and me trying to motivate, they're already motivated."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.