Berkman enjoys triumphant return to Houston
Former Astros star goes 4-for-5 with two homers, five RBIs
HOUSTON -- For years, the book on Lance Berkman was to bring a left-hander out of the bullpen and make the switch-hitter bat right-handed. The Houston Astros, his former team, tried that Thursday night against the new St. Louis Cardinal.It didn't work. With Houston leading by two runs in the top of the sixth, the Astros called on left-hander Fernando Abad to face Berkman with two runners on. Berkman lined Abad's first pitch for a three-run homer over the wall in left field that propelled the Cardinals to a nine-run inning and an 11-7 win over the Astros at Minute Maid Park. "I've hit right-handed home runs in similar situations before," Berkman said. "And it hasn't worked out, too. I know I'm a better left-handed hitter than right-handed hitter." St. Louis manager Tony La Russa believes in Berkman from both sides of the plate. "We just came from a tough homestand where he hit a couple of bullets," La Russa said. "He's swinging well from that side." Berkman went 4-for-5 with two homers Thursday, his third multi-home run game of the season, and drove in five runs. He finished the series 8-for-14 with seven RBIs. "It feels good, regardless who we're playing," he said. "It always feels good to have a game like tonight and come up with a series win. We've done a pretty good job of that recently." Berkman didn't try to hide the fact it was a really sweet return to Houston, after he was traded to the Yankees near the end of last season. "I don't think I could have asked for a better return to Minute Maid," he said. "It's not something like I came in here with a vendetta, or something to prove. I just wanted to play well in front of my family." Berkman said when the Cardinals return to Houston it still won't feel like just another road trip. "I can't imagine I'll ever come into this building and not think about 11 years of great memories," he said. "One series doesn't put that to bed. It will always be a special place to me."
"From Day 1, all month long, he's been what he is," La Russa said. "He is a really tough out. He's good from both sides of the plate."Berkman brought both leadership and a sense of humor to the St. Louis clubhouse. "I'm happy for him," third baseman David Freese said. "Things didn't go for him like he wanted last year. I know he's got a real chip on his shoulder. He's got something to prove. I'm ecstatic for him." Hitting behind Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday certainly improved Berkman's production. "You don't want to get left behind those guys," Berkman said. "They're two of the best hitters in the game. You want to try to hang with them as long as you can. It puts pitchers on the defensive. It's a lot easier to hit in a lineup where guys are making things happen." Berkman has been pretty good making things happen for St. Louis. He raised his average Thursday to .410. "You try to protect it, and extend it, and keep pushing," he said. "Don't take it for granted, just try to ride it out. It can't last forever. You look at it as, 'I'm going to extend it today.'" "The guy's good, man," said Houston third baseman Chris Johnson. "He's locked in right now, so it's tough that we're playing them when he's this hot. There's not many people getting him out right now." Berkman received a standing ovation before his first at-bat Tuesday night. There were a few boos Thursday that turned to cheers for him near the end of the game. "I got to experience a roller coaster," he said. "They loved me, then they hated me." He left a winner, this time.
Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.