Commentary

Hairston makes most of his opportunity

Utility man enters game in the bottom of the 13th and scores winning run

Originally Published: October 17, 2009
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- After five hours, 13 innings, five pinch hitters/pinch runners and a drenching, bone-chilling rainstorm, Jerry Hairston Jr. finally got into the game Saturday as the 21st Yankee of the night. But that was no big deal. After as long as he had waited to reach the postseason, what was a couple of extra hours and a little rain?

[+] EnlargeJerry Hairston Jr.
John Munson/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireJerry Hairston Jr. singled to begin the bottom of the 13th and later scored the winning run for the Yankees.

Hairston has played part of a dozen seasons for five organizations, and not only had he never played in the postseason, he had never even played for a winning team. A career .259 hitter, he is part of a three-generation major league family. His grandfather, Sammy, never played in the postseason. His father, Jerry Sr., played in only two postseason games. And on July 31, Hairston was still as far from the postseason as a player could be without wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform. He was playing for Cincinnati when the Reds traded him to the Yankees for a minor league catching prospect at the deadline.

"It's been a long time, and you do start to wonder [whether you'll get into the postseason]," Hairston said after he singled and scored the winning run in the Yankees' 4-3 victory in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. "You play for a while, and when you establish yourself as a player, your next goal is to get to the postseason and win a ring. When I got traded over here July 31, I knew I would probably have that opportunity. It's definitely been a great ride."

That's the thing about the Yankees. Not only do they have a $200 million roster filled with some of the richest and most famous players in the game, they also make the little moves that bring in role players who wind up making a huge difference.

Such was the case for Hairston in Game 2. A utility player, he waited and kept himself ready throughout Saturday night's marathon, dashing off to the batting cage four times before he finally got into the game. He was in the dugout in the bottom of the 11th as a possible pinch hitter for Freddy Guzman when Alex Rodriguez homered to tie the game at 3. Because Hairston can play the infield and outfield, Yankees manager Joe Girardi told him he wasn't going to pinch hit just yet after all because he might be needed later.

"I know he's always going to wait until the very last second because God forbid something happens to Alex or [Derek] Jeter, then I'm the last infielder, we have nobody else," Hairston said. "So I knew I would be the last batter. I just stayed ready.

"If I was the manager, I would do the same thing. [Reds manager] Dusty Baker would do that a lot with me. Like I said, I'm a swing guy. I can play anywhere, and I'm the kind of guy they want to use in the late innings if need be, come in and pinch hit or play center or short. And I know that. That's the one thing Dusty taught me -- always manage the game yourself and what would you do if you were the manager. Obviously, Joe did exactly what I would do, and it worked out."

Hairston finally got into the game in the 13th inning when he pinch hit for Guzman against Angels pitcher Ervin Santana.

"You know what, I wasn't nervous at all when I walked up to the plate," Hairston said. "I kind of told myself that I've been waiting for this my whole life. My grandfather never got this opportunity. So I told myself I'm just going to enjoy it, and what would he say to me right now? 'Just hit the ball hard somewhere.' And I was able to do that."

Hairston singled and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Brett Gardner. After the Angels intentionally walked Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera followed with a grounder to the first-base side of second baseman Maicer Izturis. For some reason, Izturis decided to fling the ball across his body to second, and his throw went wild, allowing Hairston to race around third and score easily with the winning run.

After that, it was just a matter of not being crushed by his teammates as they celebrated at home plate.

"This is something he's always going to remember," Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon said of Hairston. "Helping us win Game 2."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com