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Berkman hopeful for possible World Series return

ST. View Full Game Coverage LOUIS -- If the Cardinals manage to advance to the World Series, could injured star Lance Berkman be their secret weapon?

Berkman has pondered that question himself.

"If we made it to the World Series, there may be a possibility," said Berkman, the 36-year-old who was limited to 32 games this season by a knee injury. "I don't even know if they would even run me out there, though, because I haven't been playing, but, you know, physically I'm starting to feel better.

"It's getting to the point where it would be within the realm of possibility if that were something they were interested in doing."

It is an interesting possibility, one predicated, of course, on the Cardinals getting past the Giants in a National League Championship Series that resumes at 3 p.m. CT on Wednesday at Busch Stadium with the teams tied at one game apiece.

Berkman will be chief cheerleader, a role he has actually enjoyed for much of an otherwise disappointing 2012. It included three stints on the disabled list for left calf and right knee issues, and surgeries in May and September to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. He made only 97 plate appearances, including a ceremonial stint as a pinch-hitter in the Cardinals' regular-season finale that drew a standing ovation from the Busch Stadium crowd. Berkman spoke openly at times about the potential end of his illustrious playing career.

A year earlier, such talk seemed years away. Berkman played 145 games in his debut season with the Cardinals in 2011, batting .301 with 31 home runs and 94 RBIs, winning NL Comeback Player of the Year honors, and yes, his first World Series ring in his fifth taste of postseason play.

You would figure it is killing Berkman to watch his teammates make another push toward that ultimate stage.

"It's been fine," he said. "It's actually a good seat to watch a game from. There's no pressure to perform, so that's kind of nice."

You figure he's kidding.

He is not.

"With my postseason experience last year, I feel pretty fulfilled," Berkman said. "Obviously, having been with these guys for two years, you definitely want to go to war with them. But by the same token, to be honest with you, I feel fine sitting over there watching it."

He did get some action on the field Tuesday, a workout day in the NLCS. Berkman took swings against another rehabbing Cardinal, right-hander Jake Westbrook, who threw another simulated game and is bidding to overcome a rib-cage injury. Berkman has also begun some light running.

"He looked good," Westbrook said. "I couldn't tell you how he felt, but he looked fine up there."

So the Cardinals' calculus is this: If they advance, and if Berkman feels ready to contribute, is he healthy enough to warrant one of those valuable roster spots?

Berkman owns a .317 batting average in 223 postseason plate appearances. He was 11-for-26 with a home run and five RBIs in last year's World Series against the Rangers.

"I appreciate that he's optimistic," general manager John Mozeliak said. "We want him to be optimistic, and we want him to feel healthy enough to play. As far as any roster decisions, it's way too premature to be thinking about that.

"The most important thing is, 'Does being healthy become insurance?' Getting him right, getting him as many practice at-bats as possible. The simulated situation could benefit him. But right now, it's really difficult for me to even focus on that."

Berkman will turn 37 just about the time the Cardinals begin Spring Training, and with Allen Craig and outfielder Carlos Beltran back, it is difficult to see where he would fit on the St. Louis roster.

To date, Berkman is a .296 hitter in 14 seasons with the Astros, Cardinals and Yankees. He has some nice, round production numbers -- 360 home runs and 1,200 RBIs. He has made six NL All-Star teams -- six times ranked in the top 10 in NL MVP balloting -- and owns the 21st-best on-base plus slugging percentage (.952) in baseball history.

If his injury-riddled 2012 proves the end, it would be a sour one to an otherwise sweet career.

"The fact that that's unfortunately how this game goes through 162 games, you have guys that get to the point where they just can't get out there. And Lance was fighting things all season," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.

Credit the Cardinals for covering Berkman's absence, and that of shortstop Rafael Furcal, who is finished for the year because of an injury to his throwing elbow.

Without those two key pieces of last year's World Series championship team, the 2012 Cardinals trailed only the Brewers in runs scored by an NL club, and trailed only the Rockies and Brewers in OPS.

"The guy that replaced me is Allen [Craig], and he was probably the most productive hitter per at-bat in the Major Leagues this year," Berkman said. "It's just a deep organization with a lot of talent. That's hats off to 'Mo' and the rest of the front office for drafting players and getting guys in the system and getting them up to the big league level. There's a lot of guys they're excited about that are still coming."

St. Louis Cardinals, Lance Berkman