Berkman seized his opportunity to help that cause on Thursday, hitting a tiebreaking homer and a go-ahead RBI double as the Yankees defeated the Twins, 5-2, in Game 2 of the American League Division Series at Target Field to take a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-five set.
"That's why I wanted to come over here -- the chance to play in these games," Berkman said. "They were going to make the postseason with or without me in the regular season. I just want to be able to contribute and maybe help us win a few games here in October."
A career Astro before this year, Berkman had hit just one home run in pinstripes before connecting off Carl Pavano in the fifth, then added a big hit in the seventh to provide the necessary support for good friend Andy Pettitte, who improved his all-time numbers with his 19th postseason victory.
"Three words for you -- Texas two-step," said Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher. "No doubt, Andy Pettitte and Lance Berkman were the huge reasons for our success today. Pettitte's been doing it his entire career, and Big Lance stepped up for us today. We all knew it was going to happen. It was just a matter of when."
And Thursday was just as good a time as any. After opening the seventh with a walk to Jorge Posada, Pavano benefited from home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt's called strike on the outside part of the plate early in the count to Berkman. Pavano later hoped to have Berkman rung up on a 1-2 pitch that was ruled just off the inside corner.
Berkman blasted the next pitch into deep center field for a run-scoring double, as Posada chugged home without a play. It created an easy highlight for what he called the "worst year of my career."
"It's one game, but every game in the postseason is a big game," Berkman said. "I feel good about the contribution. I'd like to keep making those contributions going forward. That will bond you to your teammates really quickly, when you start getting big hits in the playoffs."
More immediately, that would make it an early night for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who finished a visit to the mound by jawing with Wendelstedt, who promptly ejected the skipper.
Pavano also allowed Derek Jeter's run-scoring single before being lifted, his line finalized after he surrendered four runs on 10 hits. Though Twins fans may disagree, Pavano said he didn't think Wendelstedt's call affected the entire inning, saying, "Berkman hit a good pitch -- that's the way I see it."
AT HOME ON THE ROAD
Jon Rauch pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam to end the top half of the seventh, killing a Yankees threat for more. But Kerry Wood pitched a dominant eighth inning and Mariano Rivera recorded three outs for his 41st postseason save, sending the series back to New York.
"We came here to play, and we got two wins," Rivera said. "I hope we go home and play just like that."
There had been questions coming in about Pettitte, the Major Leagues' all-time leader in postseason starts (41) and innings pitched (256). The veteran lefty hadn't looked sharp in his last two regular-season starts against the Red Sox, but the playoffs played stage to a more typical performance.
"I think yesterday, I told the guys I have never felt so unprepared going into the playoffs," Pettitte said, laughing. "Really, I felt like I would have a good outing, but it was so similar. I got locked in. Mechanically, I just felt great."
Touched for Danny Valencia's sac fly in the second inning, Pettitte had retired 12 straight creeping into the sixth, but Orlando Hudson broke up the string with a game-tying solo homer. That was all, as Pettitte hurled seven innings, allowing two runs on five hits with a walk and four strikeouts.
"He was tremendous," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I thought he used his fastball, curveball and cutter extremely well tonight. I thought the big inning was the second inning, when they had the bases loaded with one out, and he only gave up one run."
Pavano's four years in New York were marred by frequent injuries and made him, to put it kindly, a less-than-popular figure amongst the fan base. Yet Pavano seemed to have the support of a spirited Minnesota crowd of 42,305, the largest in Target Field history.
The Twins distributed faux mustaches in tribute to Pavano, something of a local cult figure now. Pavano stifled the Yankees until the fourth, when New York's approach appeared to change against the strike-throwing hurler.
"The first time through, I think guys wanted to see what he was going to do to us," Mark Teixeira said. "It was obvious he was going to hit the corners, get ahead early. You can't just sit back and let a guy like that do that. We did get a little bit more aggressive as the game went on."
Curtis Granderson doubled off the right-field wall and scored on Alex Rodriguez's sac fly, and though Pavano escaped by inducing a timely double-play ball, his luck would last only until Berkman homered in the next inning, making "Big Puma" instantly the most popular man in the dugout.
"Everybody is a great guy -- they are fun to be around," Berkman said. "It is not the clubhouse environment that I expected at all. I felt like it was going to be a bunch of superstars doing their own thing, and it is not that way at all."
New York completed the scoring with a tack-on run that crossed the plate in the ninth inning, when Granderson punched a single to center field off Matt Capps, bringing home Brett Gardner, who had stolen third after leading off the frame with a single.
The Yankees can oust the Twins with a win in Game 3 of the best-of-five series, which resumes on Saturday at New York's Yankee Stadium at 8:30 p.m. ET. In the history of the ALDS, the 19 previous teams that have taken 2-0 advantages have gone on to win the series 15 times, but the Yankees head in with constant reminders that nothing has been assured.
"We want to try to win every game we play, but there's no cause for celebration, unless this is the best two out of three," Jeter said. "We still haven't done anything yet."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.