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Notes: Berkman knows he'll rebound

Notes: Berkman knows he'll rebound

HOUSTON -- Lance Berkman is supremely confident that he's not going to hover around the .200 mark throughout the season, even though he's off to one of his slower starts in recent history.

Berkman picked up the pace a bit during the Brewers series, logging four hits in the first two games to raise his average to .259 heading into Sunday's finale.

While he's accustomed to posting .300 averages and top 10 numbers in homers and RBIs, Berkman also remembers his "down year" in 2003, when he hit .288 with 25 homers and 93 RBIs.

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Those numbers would be considered above average for most hitters, but more is expected from players of Berkman's ilk, because of his track record.

"If you have a bad year, you have a bad year," he said. "I know I have prepared for this year just like I have every year, and when I go to the plate, I concentrate as hard as I ever have. I'm doing everything I can do, and if it doesn't happen, ultimately, what are you going to do? I'm not going to make my life miserable because I'm not hitting the way I want to."

That said, Berkman doesn't want his comments to come off like he doesn't care.

"I definitely care about it," he said. "It bothers me and it's frustrating, but to what extent am I going to let it affect the quality of my life? I can make myself and everyone around me miserable, or I can just try to battle through it."

Momento: The ball that Hunter Pence deposited into right field Friday for his first Major League hit was sitting in his locker when the game ended -- or so he thought.

That ball was covered with graffiti, presumably from his teammates, who carried on the time-honored tradition of presenting a rookie with a phantom ball after he logs that first hit.

Pence laughed as he read some of the kind words from his teammates.

"'First hit -- Texas Leaguer over the first baseman,'" Pence read. "'What's Rocket going to do?' -- just funny stuff. I really thought that was the ball, that that was the tradition to write a bunch of goofy stuff on there. I wasn't upset or anything. I thought it was pretty cool."

When he walked into the training room Sunday morning, assistant athletic trainer Rex Jones said, "Here's the real ball, by the way."

Pence, who plans to give the ball to his mom, had a quiet dinner at his hotel with family and friends following his debut in Friday's game.

"All the adrenaline went away," he said. "I was exhausted. I was beat. I was ready to go to sleep."

Tragedy: While most Astros didn't have any direct ties to Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock, players were clearly upset when they walked into the clubhouse Sunday morning and saw the news of the right-hander's tragic death flashed on the television screen.

Hancock was killed in a car accident in St. Louis just after midnight Saturday.

"It's certainly sad," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "Any ballplayer is part of the fraternity, and you really feel for the family. It's unfortunate."

Woody's winners: Before his start on Sunday, Woody Williams hosted 15 athletes from the Special Olympics Houston organization as part of his "Woody's Winners" program.

Williams met with and signed autographs for the athletes, as well as provided tickets and food vouchers for Sunday's game.

It was the first of 12 Woody's Winners pregame visits that will be held before every Sunday home game. Woody's Winners allows Special Olympics athletes from the Houston area to meet Williams and attend baseball games. Williams began the program during his two stints with the Padres and carried it over when he played for the Cardinals, too.

"I wanted to do something," Williams said. "I grew up with a girl across the street who had Down's Syndrome and she was always a sweet girl, good attitude. I think it did it more for me than anyone else. It just puts things in perspective and makes the simple things important. That's the way it should be."

Coming up: The Astros will enjoy a scheduled day off Monday before beginning a three-game series with the Reds at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. Right-hander Matt Albers (0-0, 3.75) will face Reds right-hander Bronson Arroyo (0-2, 2.86).

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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