Cheap Seats

Berkman's time in St. Louis short... But oh, so sweet

It’s difficult not to feel bad for Lance Berkman whose career seems to have come to an unceremonious end, thanks to chronic knee problems.

If he would have retired at the end of the 2011 season, his story could have been a nice script for a movie.

A villain from a bitter rival joins forces with his former foes and learns that maybe they’re more like him than he previously considered. Then, after a decade and a half of trying in vain to win a championship, the combined forces united to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to win the big prize.

You’ve got to be kidding me. The only problem with that story is it seems too good to be true.

I didn’t particularly care for Berkman before he joined the Cardinals. Don’t get me wrong. I liked him as a player and greatly respected his abilities. But he brought down the Redbirds far too many times with his switch-hitting power bat. And I found it to be especially irritating when close-ups at the plate revealed his ever present smirk.

Seeing him in a different perspective completely changed my opinion of his evil grin. Watching him play everyday — and hearing what he has to say about the game made me realize The Big Puma wasn’t just some cocky jerk. He actually really loved and respected the game. That’s what he had to be so annoyingly happy about. And the guy, who played second or third fiddle to Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell when he was in Houston, was a natural born leader in a Cardinals clubhouse tense with the Albert Pujols standoff with management.

There are few players whose career could be boiled down to just one moment. And I’m sure Astros fans will see this differently. But I will always think of Berkman’s two-strike hit in the 10th inning of game six of the 2011 World Series.

It wasn’t as dramatic as David Freese’s game-winning homer. But without it, Freese’s moment would have never been possible.

With a 2-2 count, two outs and the Cardinals down 9-8, Berkman took a Scott Feldman pitch right back up the middle to tie the game and give the Birds a new lease on life.

While Freese’s homer is a magnificent thing of beauty, Berkman’s flared single was, too, but for a completely different reason.

Why? Everyone wants to be the hero and hit the big home run. But Berkman knew not to try to do too much and he got the job done with the confidence of an assassin.

Berkman didn’t jump up and down or high-five the first base coach. He didn’t look at the bench and preen like the Rangers did all series. He took off his batting gloves and kept his head in the game because he knew there was still work to do.

So maybe Berkman stuck around for one season too many — although he had no way to know things would go sour so fast.

And, while his stay with St. Louis was far too brief, I’m glad that Cardinals fans were able to watch Berkman’s World Series dream come true — and to get to know him a little better than they did when he was on the other side of the fence.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at 239-2626 or swuerz@bnd.com. See his fan blog ‘View From the Cheap Seats’ daily at www.bnd.com/cheapseats and follow him on Twitter@scottwuerz.

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