WASHINGTON (AP) — The setting and the situation were so similar, Pete Kozma couldn’t help but recall what happened six months ago.
“I can think of one game,” he said, more mischief in his words than in his deadpan facial expression.
With two runners on, No. 8 hitter Kozma came to bat for St. Louis in a tight game against the Washington Nationals, the Cardinals’ pitcher on deck. When that happened the last time these teams played a game that counted, it was Oct. 12, in Game 5 of an NL division series, and Washington pitched to Kozma, who delivered a go-ahead, two-run single.
On Monday night, the Nationals chose to intentionally walk Kozma — something some fans surely wished the Nationals had done the other time — and reliever Craig Stammen struck out Shelby Miller to end the inning. Earlier in the sixth, Yadier Molina drove in the tiebreaking run for St. Louis, backing Miller’s strong start, and the Cardinals beat the Nationals 3-2.
“Before the game, I got to thinking about it a little bit here and there,” Kozma said.
He was booed during pregame introductions and again when his name was announced before his first plate appearance, in the third inning. He singled to right in that at-bat, the ball landing not too far from where his go-ahead hit landed in October. This time, it was part of a two-run inning, with Kozma and Matt Carpenter coming home on Allen Craig’s double off the wall for a 2-0 lead.
When Kozma came up for the final time Monday, in the ninth, he was the first batter faced by — guess who? — Drew Storen, who was Washington’s closer on Oct. 12. The Nationals led 6-0 after three innings that day, and were still ahead 7-5 with two outs in the top of the ninth, before Storen gave up a tying hit to Daniel Descalso and Kozma’s hit that made it 9-7 and ended the Nationals’ season.
After striking out Kozma on Monday, Storen got pinch-hitter Descalso to pop out to third base.
“All of that did flash before my mind when it was all coming up,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
Storen, by the way, said October, the Cardinals and Kozma were not in his thoughts at all.
“If it was,” he said, “I shouldn’t be out there.”
Miller (3-1) struck out eight in 6 2-3 innings, giving up two runs and four hits.
“He’s got a different look than the majority of the guys we have on our staff, and a lot of other guys in the league. He’s keeping people off balance with that,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
“You can’t go out there and try and teach somebody deception, necessarily,” Matheny added. “The ball just comes out of his hand a little different.”
Edward Mujica pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save, and with Mitchell Boggs having blown two of four save chances, Matheny said he’ll figure out his bullpen roles game by game.
All the Cardinals’ runs came against Dan Haren (1-3), who allowed six hits in five-plus innings.
“I gave us a chance until the fifth,” Haren said. “Then I got into a mess.”
In a span of three pitches. Haren plunked the inning’s first batter, Matt Holliday, and then served up first-pitch singles to Carlos Beltran and Molina, putting St. Louis ahead 3-2. Haren then walked David Freese, loading the bases with no outs, and was done.
In came righty reliever Craig Stammen, who got Jon Jay to ground into a 3-2-3 double play before the walk to Kozma and strikeout of Miller.
Miller departed after walking Kurt Suzuki to put two on with two outs in the seventh. Joe Kelly came on to face pinch-hitter Chad Tracy, who sent a sinking shot to right-center but Jay raced over to make a nice grab.
The Nationals didn’t score against relievers Trevor Rosenthal or Mujica, either, and now have lost seven of their last 10 games, averaging only 3.3 runs in that span.
“We’re just in a rut,” Washington first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “Lot of quick innings. Not a ton of baserunners. And five, six guys that aren’t swinging the bat real good. When it rains, it pours.”
NOTES: Cardinals 1B Matt Adams was removed from the lineup after feeling soreness in his right side during batting practice. … The Cardinals have alternated wins and losses over their last nine games. … Washington closer Rafael Soriano was away from the team because his wife gave birth. … Washington 3B Anthony Rendon, called up from Double-A Harrisburg over the weekend to fill in while Ryan Zimmerman is on the DL, had his first major league hit and RBI — doubling to right-center to make it 2-all in the fourth.