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Berkman enjoying the ride10/17/2004 9:02 PM ET
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- This is what Lance Berkman dreamed about when he was hitting Whiffle Balls from the right and left side of a makeshift plate in his Texas back yard as a boy, and what he dreamed about when he hit from the right and left at Rice University here in the mid-1990s.
It is so close he can smell it. It was so loud Sunday he could hear it.
Two more wins and he will see it: The World Series.
"Right now you just shake your head and say, 'I may never have this happen to me again. I'm going to make the most of it,'" Berkman said after helping the Astros to a 6-5 victory Sunday over the Cardinals to even the National League Championship Series at two games apiece. "You do ponder the thought of being close to a World Series, just for a moment. As a boy playing Whiffle Ball out back, you dream of going to the World Series.
"But that's where I borrow a line from the movie 'Hoosiers' -- 'It's beyond your wildest dreams, so let's just keep it there.'"
That is easy for Berkman; he is in a zone and it has been that way for a long time now. He has hit safely in each of Houston's nine games in this postseason, while scoring at least one run in seven of them and driving in at least one run in six. He is hitting .467 (7-for-15) with 18 total bases, three homers and a series-high eight RBIs.
In Game 4, the Astros right fielder and cleanup hitter reached base all four times he batted: a walk in the first, a two-run double in the third, a solo homer in the sixth and an intentional walk in the seventh.
"The playoffs are funny, because people judge you and they grade you on such a small number of at-bats," he said. "You almost feel like panic mode, because if you go 0-for-1, that's a slump in the postseason, and people are going to be critiquing and analyzing.
"I'm just up there, driven by that, to know that, hey, the concentration level has got to be at the highest it can possibly be. Sometimes that's been official."
After stroking his big two-run double in the third that helped cut into a 4-1 Cardinals lead, Berkman went out to the outfield for the top of the fourth and made a play that loomed large, considering it was a one-run victory. Cardinals starting pitcher Jason Marquis trickled a single through the right side. Marquis thought he saw a chance to stretch it into a double, and Berkman nailed him at second.
"I know the ball took kind of a funny hop, the last bounce it took before it got to me," said Berkman, who was not trying to decoy Marquis. "It kind of kicked to the side a bit. I don't know if he thought I bobbled it or what, maybe he was just trying to catch me napping out there, but I'm glad it worked out because that turned out to be a pretty big play. They get three base hits after that, and I think it saved us a run."
As Berkman talked in front of his locker after the game, behind him on a shelf in his locker was a Bible. Over the top of his locker, next to a miniature Texas state flag, was a magnetic strip with the inscription from Mark 9:23: "Everything is possible for him who believes." Berkman had plenty of support behind him. And plenty around him.
Carlos Beltran, for example. He held court with reporters seemingly forever after clubbing his record-tying eighth postseason homer, this one the game-winner. It was brought to Berkman's attention that he probably would be a leading MVP candidate in this series right now if not for Beltran. Is Berkman content to go a bit under the media radar screen and actually answer questions about Beltran?
"Absolutely," Berkman said. "It's the greatest place to be, because you can do your thing and let the attention fall somewhere else. I'll just keep watching Beltran swat 'em out of the park, and I'm as happy as can be with that."
Berkman has swatted three of his own homers off Cardinals relievers. The first two each came off left-hander Ray King, who had been unhittable recently. The third one Sunday came off Kiko Calero, who had just struck out two Astros looking. That last homer came after Berkman twice called timeout while at bat, and after rookie catcher Yadier Molina had gone out to confer with Calero about how to pitch Berkman.
"(Calero) and his catcher weren't on the same page or something; it seemed like they went through five or six signs," Berkman explained. "I'm not going to stand in the batter's box tense while they're trying to figure it out. I just wanted to let them kind of get on the same page and go from there."
Berkman said the Astros were all on the same page in believing that this series would be tied up after the weekend.
"People have made the comment that we were the most confident 0-2 team ever in a playoff series," he said. "I really felt like we were going to win both of these games with Roger (Clemens) and Roy (Oswalt) on the mound. I think that says a lot about those two guys. I feel like everybody on the team felt the same way.
"We're still focused. No one in here is thinking, 'Oh, the series is now 2-2, we're OK.' It's better than being down 3-1, but we just look at it now like it's a three-game, regular-season series. The winner goes to the World Series."
Which is all he ever wanted.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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