Burke blossoming in postseason
Power surge a nice surprise for Astros rookie utilityman
ST. LOUIS -- The potential has always been there for Chris Burke; it's the opportunities that haven't.
Heading into the 2005 season, Burke was rated the No. 1 prospect in the Astros organization. On a team that has an unusual blend of established veteran stars as well as rising young ones, Burke got stuck behind a veteran. Not just any veteran, but future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio at second base.
Since Burke is still developing, he has had to try to find where best fits in on the ballclub. Coming into Game 2, Burke had hit home runs in his last two at-bats. On Thursday night, he will start a postseason game for the first time, in left field.
"Chris was signed originally as a shortstop and then we moved him to second base," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "I think that's probably where he will be the most productive and we will get the highest use out of him. Unfortunately, he is playing behind a Hall of Famer right now and that's not going to change."
Burke had been getting the start against left-handed pitchers towards the end of the season, and he will face off against Cardinals southpaw Mark Mulder on Thursday.
"Now I've got four at-bats," Burke joked. "It's one of those things where I've faced Mulder before, so at least I know what he looks like."
Earlier in the season, Garner made the decision to switch left fielder Mike Lamb with Burke, knowing Burke wouldn't get much of an opportunity at second base with Biggio there and also hoping to generate some more offense with Burke's bat.
"Chris came to Spring Training and we worked him out in left field, and I think he became the best left fielder in the league," Garner said. "He's done a marvelous job of making adjustments. He can play center field as well, and I think he plays it quite well. His versatility has been able to help us a bit."
Whether it's simply luck or Burke beginning to show signs of the player the Astros expected him to become when they drafted him 10th overall in 2001, Burke has given the team an immeasurable lift. His walk-off homer in the 18th inning of Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Braves will be remembered as one of the greatest moments in Astros history.
"It was crazy, I got a thousand phone calls probably," Burke said. "Rocket [Roger Clemens] asked me when I was doing Letterman."
On Wednesday night, in Game 1 of the NLCS, Burke struck again, this time with a two-run homer of NL Cy Young Award candidate Chris Carpenter.
"He threw me a cutter down and a sinker down and in. Then he threw the same pitch 2-0 that he threw on 1-0, but just a little bit up and a better spot to hit -- so I took a rip at it and it went out the park," Burke said.
It's hard for Burke, 25, to not make too much of all the newfound attention he is receiving. On one hand, he hasn't had enough at-bats to even determine whether he is on a hot streak right now or not. On the other hand, he knows he was drafted in the first round and eventually brought up to the Astros to produce like he has his last two at-bats.
What Burke says has helped him the most is learning from some of those veteran stars he remains stuck behind.
"Being a young guy on this team is great," Burke said. "There are so many guys to look up to and learn from, not only on the field, but off the field. As far as the attention is concerned, you know, it's been a little foreign to me, but at the same time, like I said, there are guys in our clubhouse that are good at handling the media that you can't help but to learn from."
Right now, Burke isn't so much concerned about his career but helping the Astros and the veterans that have taught him so much reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history.
"Those guys have put their heart and souls into this game and to this organization," Burke said. "Whether you're in my situation or Rocket's situation, you never know when you're going to get a shot to be this close and be on a team like this. So we're all going to go out there and play as hard as we can, and hopefully we get a chance to make it to the World Series and win the whole thing."
Stephen A. Norris is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.