The new No. 5 hitter had three hits and two RBIs to build a cushion for a bullpen that worked four innings of one-hit ball in a 5-3 victory over the Washington Nationals, giving the Cardinals a doubleheader split on Wednesday night. The 35-year-old Berkman, on a one-year free-agent deal after his worst season, is batting .339 with a team-leading 15 RBIs.
"It's a good run for me personally and for the team. It seems like every time I come up there's somebody out there," Berkman said. "I was hopeful something like this would happen, that I'd get off to a good start and have something to build on."
Jaime Garcia (3-0) allowed one earned run in five-plus innings and Colby Rasmus got his fourth RBI of the day as St. Louis snapped Washington's four-game winning streak in the nightcap. Reserve third baseman Daniel Descalso had three nice defensive plays.
Jason Motte and rookie Eduardo Sanchez combined for nine straight outs and stand-in closer Mitchell Boggs yielded a hit with two outs in the ninth before getting Nix an on infield popup for his first career save.
"We had a slugger at the plate with the tying run at the end of the game," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. "It just wasn't to be."
Jordan Zimmermann (1-3) kept alive the Nationals starters' streak of working at least five innings in every game but gave up five runs in six innings in the loss. Zimmermann allowed two earned runs or less in each of his first three outings.
Berkman, the reigning NL player of the week, doubled in a run in the fourth and delivered a run-scoring single for the go-ahead hit in the fifth.
Descalso charged to throw out Jerry Hairston Jr. on a grounder in the third and later in the inning snared Danny Espinosa's bouncer down the line and threw him out. He foiled another slow roller on Jayson Werth's run-scoring groundout in the fourth.
The second half of a day-night doubleheader drew a paid attendance of 33,714 and a turnstile count of 28,536, a massive improvement over the opener. A sparse crowd of 8,686 showed up for Game 1 at general admission prices and a sit-anywhere policy to watch the makeup game of a rainout Tuesday night, the franchise's worst crowd since Sept. 14, 1989, when only 1,519 watched a makeup of a tie game called by rain against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Sloppy play by St. Louis helped the Nationals tie it in Game 2.
Left fielder Matt Holliday camped under and dropped Rick Ankiel's fly ball to the warning track for a three-base error in the fourth, leading to an unearned run. Espinosa hit an RBI single in the fifth and then went to third on Garcia's wild pickoff throw before scoring on Ankiel's single.
"I don't want to give him a cookie 3-2," Zimmermann said of the Pujols at-bat. "You try to be extra fine with the pitch and not make a huge mistake.
"The other guys made some clutch hits, it was more the other guys than him," he said.
Ankiel made his first appearance in St. Louis as an opposing player and got a nice ovation before his first at-bat.