Given a chance, Lane comes up big
Astros outfielder's breakout season continues in NLCS
ST. LOUIS -- All those Minor League home runs weren't getting Jason Lane into the Astros' outfield. At first, someone was always ahead of him, whether it was an established Astro like Richard Hidalgo or Craig Biggio, or a midseason trade ringer like Carlos Beltran.
Lane would get his chance in 2005, or would he? Tim Purpura, who had taken over as general manager after last season, decided to take the question off Lane's mind.
"He and I had a conversation in January, when we had some workouts going on," Purpura said. "I said, 'You're going to play, and get a chance to play every day here.' We just had a conversation and he told me that made him feel so good."
Lane made all of Houston feel World Series good on Wednesday night. His fourth-inning home run off St. Louis starter Mark Mulder gave the Astros their third run en route to a 5-1 victory, as Houston won the National League Championship Series, four games to two.
It would be nice to say that after the talk in January, all was smooth in Lane's first year as a full-time starter, and Wednesday's homer was the coronation of Lane's climb to superstardom. Of course, that didn't happen. Averages of .118 in May and .259 in June took care of that.
Still, Lane hit 26 home runs, and his power swing was important in a series during which runs were not plentiful. Lane, who went 5-for-21 (.238) in the series, and St. Louis star Albert Pujols were the only players to go deep twice in the six games. Lane's other homer came off Matt Morris in the Astros' 2-1 victory in Game 4 at Minute Maid Park.
This time, the pitch from Mulder was the realization of a dream.
"It was a little cutter, middle-in, and I had been looking for it," Lane said. "He threw it to me last time we were over here and he hadn't thrown it yet. He threw it, and I was able to get the bat head out in front of it."
Purpura expected such hits from Lane, just as he expected rookies Willy Taveras and Chris Burke to have significant contributions to a team that had veteran leadership.
"Jason is a guy with a lot of talent, and I always believed in his talent," Purpura said. "He was an MVP all the way through our system, and I knew that if he got a fair chance at the Major League level, he'd develop into a fine power hitter.
"He came up big in a big situation, and now he's got a chance to help us in the World Series. Seeing that is what makes it worthwhile for us in this business, to see guys develop, to see them get a chance to win. He struggled at times, but now he's succeeded."
It seemed Lane's big chance would come in 2004, when the Astros dealt Hidalgo to Texas on June 17. But Houston traded with Kansas City for Beltran exactly one week later. But the chance would come.
"They showed a ton of confidence in me, and I never lost my faith," Lane said. "Everything happens for a reason, and I trusted in that. Things came around and I was able to contribute and help us get to this point."
On Wednesday, he didn't mind the fact that he had to wait for the opportunity.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.