TUCSON - Chris Burke will live much longer in Houston lore than he did in a Astros uniform.
His 18th-inning walkoff home run that sent the Astros into the 2005 NLCS never translated into regular work, however, so here Burke is, hitting .395 and playing all over the field after coming to the Diamondbacks in a trade that some baseball people believe was the best value-for-value deal they made in the offseason.
“It certainly is refreshing to be in front of a new set of eyes,” Burke said Sunday.
“In a lot of ways, it is re-energizing.”
Burke is seen as a handy reserve this season and has played first base, second base, shortstop and left field in the past four days.
It is a role that may look similar to the one he held in Houston from 2005-07, but one that is so much more palatable.
A natural middle infielder, Burke was blocked by Astros icon Craig Biggio at second base in his three full seasons there.
And last year, Houston appeared to give Burke the center field job in spring training only to take it away after 3½ weeks when it promoted top prospect Hunter Pence on April 26.
The whole Houston experience “was tough. I thought they had plans for me, but it never really worked out with me and (Biggio) on the same team. That was his job. That was his team,” Burke said.
Of being displaced in center field last season, “I certainly felt if they believed in me, they would have given me a chance to work through the slow start.
“But I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason. As tough as last year was, I’m supposed to be here. Certainly one day I would like to be an everyday player. Obviously I know they have a great group of players here. I’m just trying to find my way into the lineup and help the team.”
The D-Backs have been smitten, and Burke’s first at-bat Sunday was another reason. He advanced Chris Young, who had doubled, to third base with a ground ball to the right side. Young scored one batter later.
“He’s a calm thinker, a guy who does everything fundamentally right,” manager Bob Melvin said.
“He’s fit in very well with the rest of the group … going to anther spot where he doesn’t have a starting role again, you kind of wonder what the mind-set is. ‘Is this going to be the same thing again? Am I getting blocked again?’
“He’s been one of our hardest workers. He’s been productive in any spot that we have put him in.”
Burke came with a strong recommendation from former Houston manager Phil Garner, a friend and mentor of Melvin.
“This is a guy who, the bigger the at-bat, the tougher the at-bat he gives you,” Melvin said he was told by Garner.
The D-Backs only need to look to Game 4 of Houston’s 2005 NL divisional series against Atlanta to understand.
The Astros rallied from a 6-1 deficit in the last of the eighth to send the game into extra innings, but neither team scored until the last of the 18th inning.
Because of double-switches, Burke was in the on-deck circle when Roger Clemens led off the inning. Clemens, who had started Game 2, had just thrown three shutout relief innings on two days’ rest.
“Roger came in like a super hero,” Burke said. “Literally, when he came up to bat, the whole stadium came to a crescendo and thought he was going to hit a home run. When he struck out, there was a actually a big letdown. ‘Well, if Roger doesn’t do it, I don’t know who is?’ ”
Burke said he thought about bunting because Chipper Jones had played 18 innings at third base, after all, but the first pitch bounced to the plate. He took another ball before lining a Joey Devine pitch into the Crawford boxes above the left-field fence to win the game.
“When you get the opportunity to be a part of a moment like that, it’s very humbling,” Burke said.
“You know it is going to be a moment that is remembered. I hope it is not my last great moment. I’m very grateful to be a part of it.”