LOS ANGELES – It is the kind of play that seals shut playoff games … and, maybe, a World Series berth.
Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez wheeling and firing to shortstop Pete Kozma to pick Nick Punto off of second base in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 4 here Tuesday night.
St. Louis was leading 4-2 at the time, and that play snuffed out one of the Dodgers' last potential rallies.
“That was unbelievable,” Cards manager Mike Matheny said. “That's instigated by Kozma, so great heads-up play by him. Then it has to be natural instincts and athleticism by Carlos Martinez, and I don't know many guys that pull that off.”
Punto? He knows one now.
The play really was inexcusable, especially for a 13-year veteran playing in his 26th postseason game, and here's why: The Cardinals led by two runs at the time. If it had been a one-run game, you could understand Punto cheating a little too much toward third base, doing whatever he could to get a jump to tie the game.
But with one out and the Dodgers facing a two-run deficit?
"I was a little too aggressive," Punto said. "It was a big play i the game. It was a lonely place to be.
"It was a lonely jog back to the dugout."
The pickoff play was not called. It was all unspoken communication between Kozma and Martinez, which is what made it all the more impressive. Kozma had just entered the game as a defensive replacement an inning earlier and immediately made a brilliant play on a Juan Uribe ground ball to start a 6-4-3 double play.
“I saw him get a few steps off [second base], like he was getting ready to steal,” Komza said. “And then he stopped.
“As soon as he stopped, I got behind him and Carlos saw me. The timing was perfect.”
It was so perfect that it looked as if Martinez and Kozma were old pros at it. So how many times have they pulled that off this year?
“First time this year,” Kozma said.
Martinez noted that they did pull off that play last year.
Kozma explained that Martinez is simply checking back to see if there is an opportunity. When Kozma slyly moved behind Punto, bingo.
“I felt relaxed in the game, and thank God I was able to focus on that play … that allowed me to pick off Punto,” Martinez said through a translator.
Said Matheny:”He's quick in everything he does. Then, to have the guts to wheel and let it fly like that in a game like we have right now … it's off the charts.”
There were no words spoken between the pitcher and the shortstop. It was simply eye contact, a feeling between them and a terrific working relationship.
It was unspoken, but understood.
“That's the way I was raised,” Kozma explained.
Somebody in this game – probably many somebodies – raised him right.