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Rieber: Don't worry, Berkman will produce

Lance Berkman doubles in the second inning against

Lance Berkman doubles in the second inning against Boston. He had three hits against the Red Sox Sunday night. (Aug. 8, 2010) Credit: David Pokress

BALTIMORE

Prediction: At some point in this upcoming postseason, Lance Berkman will win a game with a big hit for the Yankees.

And Yankee-haters throughout the land will angrily shake their fists. Only the Yankees could add a five-time All-Star with a $14.5-million salary, as they did at the July 31 trade deadline, and have him available as a spare part.

For the moment, Berkman is the team's lefthanded designated hitter. He started last night as the first baseman and No. 3 hitter because Mark Teixeira needed to rest his broken toe and sore thumb.

Berkman went 0-for-5 in the Yankees' 11-3 win. He is batting .286 with no home runs and five RBIs in 28 games since the trade. For that production, the Yankees are on the hook for just over $3 million in pro-rated salary after the Astros kicked in $4 million when the deal was struck.

Trust me: Berkman's signature Yankee moment will come in October, not August or September. Remember when the Yankees got David Justice in 2000? Like Justice, Berkman is a professional hitter with postseason experience. And he's still feeling his way with his new team.

"This whole experience has been a transition," Berkman said last night. "I came from hitting third each day in Houston and playing first base and basically being counted on to be the main guy in the middle of the lineup, me and Carlos Lee, and then to come over here and you're sort of an extra part and hit down in the lineup. Today, it's different. But it's been quite an adjustment."

A lifelong Texan, Berkman likened the city of Houston to a "womb" when he was traded. (Descriptive. Maybe a little too much so. But OK.)

He waived his no-trade clause to join the Yankees. It was not an easy choice, and Berkman is honest enough to admit he is not sure how his brief stint in pinstripes is really going.

"I think it's 'to be continued,' " he said. "I think the jury's still out on that. I can tell you that it was really hard on me from an emotional standpoint, a lot harder than I thought it was going to be to leave the Astros and come anywhere, much less New York. I feel like I'm starting to settle in a little bit here as far as feeling a part of the team. I'm trying to survive this last three weeks and the playoffs and do the best I can."

Berkman is no stranger to the postseason. After going 2-for-12 in his first playoff series in 2001, Berkman appeared in five more in 2004-05, when the Astros went to the NLCS one year and the World Series the next.

In those five series, Berkman batted .340 with six home runs and 26 RBIs in 26 games.

In 2006, he hit .315 with 45 homers and 136 RBIs and finished third in the NL MVP voting. But the Astros went 82-80, beginning an organizational descent that culminated in the trades of Berkman and Roy Oswalt before this year's deadline.

Berkman, at 34 the same age as Justice in 2000, will be a free agent at the end of the season. A $15-million mutual contract option will be speedily declined by the Yankees. A low-cost return to the rebuilding Astros is a possibility.

"I wouldn't rule that out," he said. "I think that's certainly possible. But I do like being in this kind of winning environment. You do want to feel like you have a chance to win."

He has a chance now. He's not the main man anymore. Just a feeling . . . one night this October he will be.

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