ATLANTA -- Though the Cardinals certainly missed Rafael Furcal's on-field presence over the past month, Pete Kozma's emergence as a capable Major League shortstop became one of the feel-good stories of the Cards' September.
Now Kozma has the chance to carry that surge into the brightest of baseball's spotlights. Kozma, who, in late August, was unsure if he would even be considered for a September callup, starts at short for the Cardinals in Friday's Wild Card game.
"You always wonder how a kid's going to perform when you put him on a big stage," manager Mike Matheny said. "And we put him on as big a stage as there was in the game [in September], and he rose to the challenge. I don't know, to be honest with you, what we would have done [without him]. We would have kept musical chairing it for a while with a couple of other players until we found somebody to take control. But, fortunately, Pete Kozma stepped up, took charge of the position."
In finding a replacement for Furcal, the Cardinals prioritized defensive stability. Kozma provided that, but surprisingly also much more. Kozma's .343 batting average over the final month of the season was the best by a St. Louis rookie since 1984, when Terry Pendleton hit .343.
Kozma started the final 16 games of the regular season, making it little surprise that Matheny stuck with him on Friday. Ten of Kozma's 22 hits were for extra bases, and he delivered an RBI in seven of the team's last 11 games.
This production followed a Minor League season in which Kozma batted just .232 in 131 games.
"I think the big thing for him has been confidence," general manager John Mozeliak said. "That's been something he's had to battle a little bit. When you look at his career path in the Minor Leagues, getting off to a quick start was never something he did. To be able to come in here and step in right away with success has really helped his confidence."