Lamb, Burke moves pay off for Astros

Lamb, Burke moves pay off for Astros

HOUSTON -- Astros manager Phil Garner solved a dilemma on Saturday that led to his team taking a 2-1 lead over the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park.

He wasn't sure who to play in left field: Chris Burke, his hottest hitter, or Mike Lamb, who seems to own St. Louis right-hander Matt Morris.

The decision was pure genius. He started both, the right-handed swinging Burke in center field and the lefty-swinging Lamb at first base, with the switch-hitting Lance Berkman shifting to left field.

"Chris is swinging the bat well, and I wanted to get Lamb in the game, he's swinging the bat well, too," Garner said before his team's 4-3 win. "There are a lot of different combinations, but I feel pretty good about this one."

He was prophetic. Lamb was 2-for-3 against Morris with a fourth-inning two-run homer to the opposite field and a one-out sixth-inning double. He had two RBIs, two runs scored and his two hits either plated or led to all four Houston runs.

Lamb, a journeyman utility player who has found a home under Garner the last two seasons, is now 8-for-18 lifetime against Morris in the regular season and postseason, with five homers and two doubles.

But afterward, Lamb couldn't explain his good fortune against Morris.

"I don't know, I just see the ball good off him and it seems like I get pitches to hit," Lamb said. "I've been fortunate not to miss many of them. Really, 15, 20 years from now if somebody asks, 'Do you remember Matt Morris or Mike Lamb?' I'm sure it's going to be Matt Morris. He's a good pitcher. He has been for a while now."

Burke, finishing his first full Major League season, continued his uncommon postseason season success. With a single in four at-bats on Saturday, he's hitting .500 (6-for-12) with two homers, a double, triple, four RBIs and four runs.

Burke's walk-off homer last Sunday at home in the 18th inning won Game 4 and the first round of the playoffs against the Braves. He then homered in his next at bat -- a pinch-hit appearance against Chris Carpenter in Wednesday's 5-3 Game 1 loss -- and started against Mark Mulder on Thursday night, when he went 2-for-4 with the triple and a run-scoring single in a 4-1 Astros win.

Thus, Garner's dilemma.

"The joke was: How loud are the boos going to be if he didn't play [Burke] today?" Lamb said. "It's good for him. He's doing well right now. You know, you've got to ride that horse while you can, while he's hot."

Lamb struggled most of the season, batting .236 with 12 homers and 58 RBIs. He hit his low during August (.171), but made an adjustment in his mechanics in time to revive for a September run (.319).

"The only adjustment I made mechanically was I tried to get my [front] foot down a little sooner," he said. "I struggled for five months not being able to figure that out, something as silly as that."

Thus, he wasn't surprised when he arrived at the ballpark on Saturday and discovered that he and Burke were both in the lineup.

"I was thankful," Lamb said. "I know that he's doing well and it would have been really tough to leave him out of the lineup."

In the end it was Garner who was thankful -- that his imagination and creativity ruled.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.