Energetic Hairston delivers big hits, key slide

Energetic Hairston delivers big hits, key slide

MILWAUKEE -- As the son of a Major Leaguer, Jerry Hairston Jr. remembers spending many hours in the White Sox clubhouse, where he's sure he irritated his father's manager, Tony La Russa, more than a few times.

Hairston did it again Thursday night.

Hairston's fourth-inning double off Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse scored Prince Fielder and put himself in position to score the tying run with a spectacular slide around catcher Yadier Molina a few minutes later on Yuniesky Betancourt's line-drive single to center field, sparking an eventual 4-2 victory in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium.

"I knew [Betancourt] had smoked the ball," Hairston said. "I didn't know if [the third-base coach] would send me or not. I just kept running. I may not be 21 [years old] anymore. I kind of stopped a little bit, and then I had to get going there again. I was able to get in there before the tag."

Actually, Cards first baseman Albert Pujols' relay throw arrived just ahead of Hairston. But the athletic 35-year-old utility man managed to slide around Molina and touch the plate with his outstretched left hand.

"It's never good when he hits a lined shot right at the center fielder," Hairston said. "I know we had the eight-hole hitter and the nine-hole hitter coming up. So we wanted to be a little aggressive. Fortunately, it worked out."

Two innings later, Hairston produced another double that helped Rickie Weeks move into position to score and give the Brewers a two-run cushion.

"He just brings the energy," Weeks said. "He's been there before, too. He brings that veteran presence. It's just good to have somebody like that because he can do it all."

"I just try to play the same game I always have," Hairston said. "Obviously the energy is a little better in the postseason. It's awesome. I wish the regular season was like that. There's nothing like playing postseason baseball. You don't get many opportunities, and I definitely want to enjoy it."

With help from the doubles Hairston delivered in the fourth and sixth innings, the Brewers bounced back from consecutive losses to tie this best-of-seven series and, more importantly, guarantee that they will play at least one more game in the friendly confines of their home ballpark. They recorded a Major League-best .704 home winning percentage this year.

"We have a lot of heart in this clubhouse," Hairston said. "We come to win every night and we never give up. We showed that [in Wednesday's loss]. We're going to continue to fight."

After Hairston was acquired from Washington, he fortified Milwaukee's lineup while Weeks was sidelined with an ankle injury. At the same time, he was providing some outfield depth while Carlos Gomez was out with a shoulder injury.

"He got his chance, and he started hitting and holding down every position that he could," Brewers veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins said. "Winning teams need to have all the pieces to the puzzle."

Now with Casey McGehee in the midst of the roughest stretch of his young career, Hairston has spent the postseason serving as the starting third baseman for a club that is now just two wins away from reaching the World Series.

Hairston has made the most of his opportunity as he has provided a solid glove at third base and produced four multihit performances through the first nine games of the playoffs. His latest proved to be his most influential, as he delivered both his doubles Thursday night in key spots.

Hairston has been there before.

It was also a midseason trade that allowed Hairston to be on this same stage two years ago as he helped the Yankees win a World Series championship. He started one game during that 2009 Fall Classic. But he has never previously had anything like his current opportunity -- to serve as an everyday player for a playoff team.

"There's nothing like playing in a World Series," Hairston said. "To win it and be at the pinnacle of your sport is a special feeling. To have that World Series ring, nobody can take that away from me. I want these guys to experience this."

As Jerry Hairston Sr. spent parts of 14 Major League seasons primarily with the White Sox, he never experienced the thrill of competing in the World Series. He was part of the first team La Russa skippered during his legendary managerial career. The two also spent some time together as Minor League teammates in the 1970s.

"I definitely respect him," Hairston said. "My dad played for a lot of managers and he said, without question, Tony is the best manager. He's always prepared."

Still, while there is certainly a mutual sense of respect, La Russa and Hairston have not spent this week catching up and reminiscing about days gone by. Their focus is understandably elsewhere right now.

"Tony is a competitor," Hairston said. "I think he just wants to win, and I want to win, too."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.