As part of the Astros' 50th anniversary, the weekly "Game to Remember" series features a former Astros/Colt .45s great discussing his favorite game while playing for the Houston franchise. This week: Chris Burke
The memories remain very vivid to Chris Burke -- the pitch humming towards the plate, the ball flying through the air, the roar of the crowd. The seconds that followed were some of the most exciting in Astros history and punctuated the greatest moment in Burke's career.
Burke became one of a very select group of players to decide a playoff series with a walk-off home run when he socked a solo shot of Atlanta's Joey Devine that ended Game 4 of the 2005 National League Division Series in 18 innings. At 5 hours, 50 minutes, it's the longest playoff game in Major League history.
And a moment to which Burke will be forever linked.
14. Claim to fame: Hit an 18th-inning walk-off homer in Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS against the Braves to clinch the series for the Astros.
15. Did you know? Burke hit .286 in 13 playoff games for the Astros in 2005.
16. What's he doing now? Burke and his wife have three kids and live in Louisville, Ky., where he has an instructional facility called Chris Burke Baseball. He's also the lead instructor for baseball magazine Inside Pitch. Burke also announces college baseball games on ESPNU .
"It's something I've come to accept," he said. "I think at the time, when you hit a home run, especially being a rookie, you think you'll play forever and you'll get many more chances in the postseason and that's going to be a highlight in a long list of accomplishments. It didn't turn out that way."
Burke, the Astros' first-round pick out of the University of Tennessee in 2001, wound up playing six years in the Major Leagues, getting traded from the Astros to the D-backs after the 2007 season. He played his final season with the Padres in 2009 before retiring.
A career .239 hitter with 23 career regular-season homers, Burke's name is more associated with his postseason heroics than anything else he did in his career.
"Really, the farther I get away from it the more I appreciate it, and I'm blessed to have a moment like that and been a part of a team that played for it all and finished my career knowing I was able to contribute and perform when it was all on the line," he said. "That's a lot of fun from an athletic point of view, in particular, to perform well in your sport's biggest games."
Burke didn't even start the game at Minute Maid Park, having entered as a pinch-runner for Lance Berkman in the 10th inning. Berkman, of course, hit an eighth-inning grand slam that cut the Braves' lead to 6-5, and Brad Ausmus tied it with a solo homer in the ninth.
"I felt we got off to a slow start," Burke said. "The Braves came out with more edge, obviously, playing with their backs to the wall, and they jumped on us early. The big blow was Lance hitting the grand slam to get us within striking distance, and then Ausmus comes up with the biggest swing of his life, certainly the most timely. From there, it was a war of attrition."
As dramatic as the home runs by Berkman and Ausmus were, they were soon overshadowed when Roger Clemens came out of the bullpen and pitched three scoreless innings in relief (and wound up getting the win). That got the game to the bottom of the 18th inning.
With the Astros out of players, Clemens led off the inning and struck out against Devine. That brought Burke to the plate. He faked a bunt on the first pitch, and Devine threw the ball to the backstop.
"Once it went 1-0, I thought I was going to see a good pitch and he threw one inside that almost hit me," Burke said. "I could see the ball was running in quite a bit. I like to pull the ball, obviously, and at Minute Maid even a guy like me can feel like they have a swinger's chance every rip to hit one out. I thought to myself, get a pitch to turn on here and put your best swing on it."
Burke did just that, sending a line drive into the front row of the Crawford Boxes to spark a massive celebration. His teammates mobbed him at home plate, and Burke's place in history was secure. The ball wound up in Cooperstown, N.Y., in the Baseball Hall of Fame along with his jersey. He has kept the bat and the batting gloves, and he has a picture hanging in his office of Clemens giving him a piggyback ride. It's signed by the Rocket.
No, Burke didn't have a lengthy career like teammates and fellow first-round picks Berkman and Craig Biggio, but for one moment he was on top of the world.
"I so enjoyed my time in Houston and loved the fans and the people in that area," he said. "It's nice to know that I'll always have a reason to be welcomed today."