The Oakland A’s have a knack for comeback stories, and 2021 was no exception.
In the lineup, Jed Lowrie returned after missing two seasons to injury and played 139 games in his familiar role as a clutch professional hitter, and Khris Davis found his way back after being traded last winter and hit a dramatic homer in his final at-bat. In the bullpen, Deolis Guerra was quietly effective for the first time in four years, and Sam Moll got back to the majors for the first time since 2017.
Add in all kinds of other bounce-backs and breakouts and rookies and debuts, and there have been plenty of uplifting headlines even during what turned out to be a disappointing campaign in the standings.
They saved one more tale of redemption for the end of the year. Entering the final weekend series of the season, with the A’s already eliminated from playoff contention, they were running out of infielders. Three had gone on the injured list in the span of six days, so they called up veteran Pete Kozma to help out.
Kozma had made his name in the majors with the Cardinals back in 2012-13, but hadn’t seen 100 plate appearances in a summer since 2015. The last time he’d played in MLB at all was 2018, briefly with the Tigers, and after that he’d spent some time in the Australian League. But he scored a minor league contract with Oakland last winter and spent the year in Triple-A, and at age 33 he was headed back to the Show.
For three games, Kozma started at shortstop for the A’s, playing the full nine innings each day. He got plenty of chances to show off his solid glove and came through every time, including a throw to home plate to prevent a run on a non-force play, and a nice diving stop to turn a two-run single into a one-run forceout. It was a welcome sight at a position where the A’s had some of the worst defensive metrics in the league this year.
At the plate Kozma didn’t make much noise, going 0-for-4 in each of the first two games. On Friday one of his grounders fortuitously resulted in a run-scoring error, and on Saturday he had a productive out to advance a runner from first to second ahead of a teammate’s RBI single, but he was yet to notch a hit of his own.
He finally got it on Sunday. In his second at-bat of the day, facing starter Jose Urquidy, he knocked a sharp single up the middle. At 96.7 mph off the bat it registered as hard contact, a properly well-hit ball, not just some bloopy flare or lucky dribbler.
Pete Kozma gets his first MLB base knock since Sept. 30, 2018 pic.twitter.com/A3lHtVfRN8— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) October 3, 2021
The hit didn’t drive in any runs, but it did move a runner from first to third base, and that runner later scored on a sac fly. Give Kozma a hockey RBI!
He finished the year 1-for-12, but the 12 represented making it back to the bigs at all, and the 1 was his first in three years.
Whether Kozma will get another chance in 2022 and beyond remains to be seen, in Oakland or elsewhere, but for one weekend he was back in the majors, with a hit to show for it. On the level of franchise history that doesn’t have much impact, and it didn’t change anything about the doomed 2021 season, but at least he gave us one more happy moment to cheer for at the bitter end.