Puma Power: Berkman awakens in Yankees playoff debut

MINNEAPOLIS — Lance Berkman(notes) spent most of his career batting third or fourth for the Houston Astros.

In Berkman's first career playoff appearance for the New York Yankees, manager Joe Girardi put him eighth.

Or, as Berkman jokingly called it with his Texas drawl: "Big snowman."

Having a self-effacing sense of humor serves Berkman well, especially considering the big zeroes he was putting up for New York. With the Yankees, he had been much more "Fat Elvis" than he was "Big Puma."

Despite a lowly spot in the order, Berkman performed like a cleanup hitter Thursday night, lining a pair of go-ahead hits — including a solo home run and a two-run double — in the Yankees 5-2 victory against the Minnesota Twins.

"That's why I wanted to come over here, was just the chance to play in these games," said Berkman, who made the postseason three times in 11-plus seasons with the Astros, but not since 2005.

Berkman's breakout game helped the Yankees take a 2-0 series lead, and also helps him file his unremarkable regular-season stint with the Yankees under life experience. Even better, he's probably just one or two more hits away from receiving a lifetime invitation to Old Timer's Day at Yankee Stadium. Move over, Homer Bush.

"You don't feel like you're really part of the team until you have done something to help the team," said Berkman, 34, who called 2010 the worst year of his career.

Andy Pettitte(notes) also had yet another Pettitte-like playoff performance to give New York a chance to sweep back in the Bronx on Saturday. Pettitte was Berkman's teammate in Houston and helped persuade him to waive his no-trade clause.

Berkman admitted to doubting whether he had done the right thing.

As they passed each other in the interview room, Pettitte cracked a joke.

"I told Lance that I hadn't won a game since he got here. I was going to try to get rid of him," Pettitte said.

Few would have stopped Pettitte, were he serious (and general manager Brian Cashman). A five-time All-Star in the NL with 326 homers, Berkman hit .255/.358/.349 with one homer in 123 regular-season plate appearances for the Yankees since debuting July 31.

That's one reason Berkman didn't care about hitting eighth — which only happened once in Houston. Another reason: With Alex Rodriguez(notes), Mark Teixeira(notes), Curtis Granderson(notes) and Robinson Cano(notes) in the lineup, where else is he going to bat?

"I don't expect to hit in front of any of those guys," Berkman said. "I am just glad to be in the lineup."

Berkman kept working with hitting coach Kevin Long and, Pettitte revealed, the pair had a recent breakthrough.

"He said he was launching balls in [batting practice] yesterday," Pettitte said. "And he said he felt unbelievable up there and felt like he was going to be able to drive the ball the other way."

Berkman finally made an honest man of him.

"I have been telling everybody in the clubhouse, it is like, this guy can hit the ball so far to the opposite field, he has more power oppo probably than anybody I ever played with," Pettitte said. "It [just] hasn't clicked for him for the last two months."

It's clicked for Berkman for one game. Batting left-handed against Carl Pavano(notes) in the fifth, Berkman's home run went 438 feet to left-center to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.

His double — which came after a borderline, disputed ball called by umpire Hunter Wendelstedt — put the Yankees up 3-2 in the seventh.

Replays show Berkman got a break on the call — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was thrown out for arguing — but he'll take it.

Berkman probably was due to catch a break.

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