SAN FRANCISCO -- Game 7 and the National League championship came apart for Pete Kozma and the Cardinals in the third inning on Monday night at AT&T Park. And the kid shortstop who replaced the injured Rafael Furcal at the end of August was right in the middle of it."I've never seen anything like it," Kozma said, with the 9-0 loss in the books and his club heading home, while the Giants are moving on to the World Series against the Tigers. Game 1 will begin at 8:07 p.m. ET on Wednesday night on FOX.
"Yeah, I was in the middle of it," Kozma said about that inning, during which San Francisco broke open the game with five runs. "It was tough, tough for everybody. Everybody has to be out there, just like me."There was the ball that, with the bases loaded, spun off Hunter Pence's bat, just eluding Kozma's grasp. That accounted for three runs when center fielder Jon Jay booted it for an error. There was the grounder up the middle hit by Brandon Crawford -- Kozma fielded it cleanly but was late with his throw to the plate. Kozma also made a high feed to second baseman Daniel Descalso on Angel Pagan's possible double-play grounder, allowing another run to score on what turned into a forceout. "It was a tough inning," Kozma said. "They did it in each of the last three games -- one big inning. They capitalized on our mistakes." Kozma has experienced both highs and lows in this, his first postseason, winning Game 5 of the NL Division Series with a ninth-inning base hit that accounted for the decisive final two runs in a stunning, come-for-behind 9-7 victory over the Nationals. On Monday night, Kozma had the precise opposite experience. It's all part of the learning experience. "I don't believe that we would have been here right now, and I don't know if we would have gotten out of September, early October, if we hadn't had Pete Kozma step up the way he did," manager Mike Matheny said. "Once we lost Furcal, he's been a tremendous shortstop for us." The Giants headed into that third inning having clipped starter Kyle Lohse for a two-run lead. A single by Marco Scutaro, a double by Pablo Sandoval and a walk to Buster Posey loaded the bases. In came Joe Kelly to replace Lohse. Up to the plate stepped Pence. Slow motion replays showed that Pence broke his bat as he connected with the pitch. The ball struck the bat on the follow through not just once but twice, which would seem to be aerodynamically impossible. "It does seem impossible," said first baseman Lance Berkman, who is injured and not on the postseason roster. "But it did happen." Kozma broke to his right, but the ball changed direction and skipped up the middle. And when Jay bobbled the ball in center, San Francisco's lead had bulged to five runs. "I saw what it did, but I didn't know that it hit his bat so many times until somebody told me," Kozma said. "I knew it came off the bat funny because of the way Pete went after it," Descalso said. But that wasn't the only weird play in the inning. Brandon Belt followed with a single off Kelly's glove that deflected to Descalso, allowing Pence to move to third. Gregor Blanco walked, reloading the bases. Crawford then slapped a ball up the middle. Kozma fielded it with his back almost toward home plate. He spun and threw, but much too late to get the force. "I should have gone to first," Kozma said. "That was just a bad decision on my part." At that point, the Giants were up, 6-0, and the game was virtually over. "Not a lot went right for us the last three games," Descalso said. "It's tough to win when you only score once in three ballgames. We gave up another big inning and got behind early. That was weird, the way Pence's ball was hit. That's baseball, though. Weird stuff happens. But we didn't score a run anyway, so it doesn't really matter."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.