Berkman powers Astros past Pirates

Berkman powers Astros past Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- Coming into Thursday afternoon's game, Lance Berkman had driven in a grand total of two runs and was hitting .214 as the No. 3 hitter of the Astros. With one swing of the bat against the Pirates, he may have erased a week's worth of frustration.

The first baseman turned on Sean Burnett's 1-2 hanging slider in the sixth inning and deposited it into the left-field seats for a three-run homer that broke a tied ballgame and enabled the Astros to win the rubber game of the three-game series, 6-3.

"Let's keep things in perspective, we're not even 10 games into the season yet," said Berkman, who hit his second homer of the year. "I think it's a little early to bemoan a lack of clutch hitting, but I think we're going to be OK. We have some guys with good track records and generally that's indicative of what's going to happen over the course of a long season.

"I thought we did a great job of battling back after they jumped out in front of us. That's what you have to do to win games."

The Astros now have a modest two-game winning streak on the heels of a five-game losing stretch, and they head home with their first series win of the season.

"That was important for us," Berkman said. "We talked about that. We wanted to go home with a good feeling. This is a very good series win for us. We need to continue the momentum we established as we go into a long homestand."

At the outset of the game, the Astros found themselves in a familiar position on Thursday afternoon -- behind early. The Pirates put up two quick runs off of starter Russ Ortiz in the bottom of the first inning, and it looked like Houston was reverting to form after its one-night hiatus on Wednesday.

But Houston climbed back into the game with single runs in the second, third and fourth innings. Hunter Pence's one-out homer off of Pirates starter Jeff Karstens, the right fielder's third of the season, got the Astros within a run in the second inning. Pittsburgh built the lead back to two on Nyjer Morgan's RBI triple in the bottom of the inning, but that did not deter the Astros, who scored their second run of the game without the benefit of a hit, using a pair of walks and a fielder's choice from Carlos Lee to make it 3-2.

Houston tied it in the fourth with a two-out rally off of Karstens. Jeff Keppinger extended his hit streak to six games -- one for every game he's played as an Astro -- with a triple to right-center field. Ortiz helped his own cause by singling in Keppinger to knot the score at three.

Prior to the game, manager Cecil Cooper said he was hoping Ortiz, who last started a Major League game on Aug. 20, 2007, could get him through five innings and give his team a chance to win. The veteran almost completely delivered, being lifted for lefty reliever Wesley Wright with Nate McLouth coming to the plate and a man aboard with two outs in the fifth. He gave up the three runs on five hits and two walks whlie striking out two, but left with his club very much in the ballgame.

"I thought he pitched pretty well," Cooper said after the win. "I think, early on, he may have gotten squeezed a bit, pitches that were down in the zone we thought were strikes. He didn't have his real sharp breaking ball that he normally has, but he threw the ball well and he stayed out there for [nearly] five innings and close to 100 pitches. That's good for us, and hopefully he can take the ball every five days for us."

"I'm not particularly happy with throwing 4 2/3, but we got a win," Ortiz said. "I have to do a little better job of letting the ball go and trusting everything and not trying to make perfect pitches. It's definitely something to build on. There's always the opportunity to build on something, so I'll just get ready for my next start."

After Ortiz's departure, the bullpen took over and shut down the Pirates offense for the final 5 1/3 frames. Wright finished off the fifth to get the victory, and three more relievers coming in behind him to protect the lead.

With Jose Valverde unavailable because of a sore back, LaTroy Hawkins finished things off for his first save of the season.

"Our bullpen was outstanding again," Cooper said. "They kept them at bay. When you get big swings like that from your big boys, you have to make them stand up, and we did today."

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