ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' come-from-behind victory over the Nationals in Game 5 of last year's National League Division Series was sparked by two unlikely sources.
Daniel Descalso tallied three hits, including a solo homer, and rookie Pete Kozma hit the go-ahead RBI single in the top of the ninth as St. Louis downed Washington, 9-7, to advance to the NL Championship Series.
In Wednesday's Game 5 against the Pirates, Kozma received the starting nod at shortstop over Descalso. Manager Mike Matheny said he's riding the hot hand, and for a team that recorded just 14 hits over its last three games, Kozma's three knocks and one walk during this series are appealing.
"I feel pretty good," Kozma said. "I feel like I'm shrinking the strike zone a little bit, putting the ball in play."
"[We're] 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."
Despite struggling for much of the summer, Kozma managed a modest turnaround in September -- he batted .243 (9-for-37) compared to his .063 average in August -- though his role continued to shrink. The timeshare at shortstop shifted heavily in Descalso's favor, as he started 18 games last month to Kozma's nine.
Matheny has often employed Kozma's right-handed bat against lefty pitchers, but he had the 25-year-old shortstop batting eighth Wednesday for a third start in a row, facing Pittsburgh righty Gerrit Cole.
"Cole's a good pitcher against lefties and righties," Kozma said. "[Cardinals Game 5 starter Adam] Wainwright gets a lot of ground balls. Maybe [Matheny is] thinking about that. I don't know what he's thinking, all I know is I'm in there today."
If the Cardinals are lucky, Kozma can recreate his first Game 5 performance to help St. Louis fend off elimination once again.
"Same situation -- do or die. We'll see what happens today," Kozma said with a smile.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.