HOUSTON (AP) – Chris Burke remembers the imaginary game-winning home runs he hit in his backyard as a kid.

While Burke never pretended to be anybody else, there will be plenty of young kids dreaming of being able to duplicate what the Houston Astros’ rookie is doing this postseason.

“I can’t explain it, and I don’t really care to,” Burke said Friday. “I’ve just been having fun. It’s been a blast.”

Burke’s homer in the 18th inning of the Astros’ last home game ended the longest postseason game ever and decided the NL division series against the Atlanta Braves. But he wasn’t just a one-hit wonder.

In Game 1 of the NL championship series in St. Louis, Burke had a pinch-hit homer. Then he started in left field for Game 2 on Thursday night, and had a triple, an RBI single and two runs in a 4-1 victory over the Cardinals that evened the best-of-seven series at a game each.

“Absolutely, he’s our guy,” shortstop Adam Everett said.

Burke is hitting .625 (5-for-8) with a double, triple, two homers and four runs scored in the playoffs. Teammates are starting to refer to the kid who hit .248 with five homers in 318 regular-season at-bats as “Babe” – a reference to the great slugger not the rookie’s youth.

“I’m not too much into that nickname, but it’s flattering,” Burke said. “I don’t think it’s very fitting.”

A college shortstop who was a first-round draft pick in 2001, the 5-foot-11 Burke was converted into a second baseman by the Astros. But when he finally got his first extended chance in the major leagues this season, Craig Biggio had moved back to second base.

So Burke started 74 games in left field, one in center and just seven at second, splitting time in the batting order late in the season primarily with left-hander Mike Lamb.

When Lamb was in the lineup, he often played first base and Lance Berkman shifted to left.

“I don’t see him as a platoon player by any stretch of the imagination, and in other circumstances, he might have gotten a chance to play every day, and you would have seem more of this type of player every day,” manager Phil Garner said.

“We just didn’t have the luxury of letting him fail a little bit along the way to becoming the player that he is.”

Garner wouldn’t say Friday what his starting lineup would be for Game 3 on Saturday, but Lamb will likely start instead of Burke against Cardinals right-hander Matt Morris.

Whether Burke’s starting or not, his infectious enthusiasm won’t be diminished. He’s always played hard whenever he gets in a game, as a starter or late-game replacement.

“You always feel like that he’s a guy that’s going to help you win late in the game,” Garner said. “That’s one of the traits that’s hard to find in a player.”

Burke showed that against Atlanta, with his homer into the left-field stands that was caught by Shaun Dean, the same fan who had snagged Berkman’s grand slam in the eighth inning. Burke had entered the game as a pinch-runner for Berkman in the 10th inning.

“He’s really been an underrated part of this team,” Berkman said. “Swinging the bat, not just in the playoffs, you can see and tell the way he goes about his business, the way he has at-bats, he’s going to be a great player.”

Dean returned to the stadium on Friday as a guest of the Astros, and donated both balls to the Hall of Fame. The fan also said Burke’s homer went a little farther than the one Berkman hit.

“I’m not sure that’s the case,” Berkman said. “He may have been caught up in the moment.”

That moment when Burke’s homer clinched the division series and set up the NLCS rematch with the Cardinals.

“It was great to see,” said Roger Clemens, who pitched the final three innings in relief against the Braves before Burke’s first postseason homer. “That kid, I don’t know if his feet ever touched the ground.”

That real trot around the bases was better than any Burke could have ever imagined.

AP-ES-10-14-05 1921EDT

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