Hairston is one of the good guys that got away

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Michael Hunt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Friday, April 20, 2012

Two weeks into the season, it is apparent how much the Brewers miss Prince Fielder. It is noticeable by their struggles in the middle of the order and their inconsistent hitting in general.

Then again, you knew they’d miss the big guy.

But Jerry Hairston Jr.?

The music was blaring Thursday afternoon inside the visitors’ clubhouse as the Los Angeles Dodgers were celebrating not getting swept by the Brewers. Hairston was alone at his locker when he was asked about his brilliant defensive play that saved a 4-3 game.

“Third base is the hot corner for a reason,” Hairston said with one of his characteristic smiles. “It was all reaction.”

He was one of the good guys in a tight clubhouse last season, when the Brewers made the playoffs. And when Casey McGehee could no longer cut it defensively, Hairston became the postseason third baseman.

You might ask where that Hairston was when he kicked a couple of balls against St. Louis in Game 5 of the NLCS.

This Hairston made the kind of play Thursday that.... well, let’s just say had it happened in the playoffs instead of the 13th game of a regular season, the video would be viral by now.

In the bottom of the eighth inning with two outs and Carlos Gomez at third, Alex Gonzales grounded the ball so hard down the third-base line that a tied game seemed beyond inevitable. Hairston is almost 36 years old. No way he dives to backhand that rocket.

But he did, and from his knees he threw out Gonzales as pretty much everyone inside Miller Park paused to take in that piece of defensive awesomeness. It was so stunning that it made Hairston’s sharp barehanded play on Travis Ishikawa in the ninth seem routine by comparison.

“I know I’ll get a couple of texts from Wolfie,” Hairston said of Brewers starter and loser Randy Wolf. “He’ll get on me.”

Big picture, baseball is one long string of “one of those things.”

My earlier ironic reference notwithstanding, it would be silly to remotely compare the loss of Fielder to the loss of Hairston, who signed with the Dodgers because the Brewers were unwilling to give an aging utility player a two-year contract.

It would almost be like saying the Brewers miss Jamey Wright—who, by the way, did strike out five in relief for the Dodgers—like they miss CC Sabathia.

Point being, the Brewers needed a full-time defensive upgrade at third and a little something offensively to sprinkle into the void Fielder created.

Aramis Ramirez doesn’t have a lot of lateral movement, but he makes plays within his range. He finally got it going a little bit at the plate these last two games against the Dodgers to get his average of .174 within sight of the Mendoza Line. Ryan Braun, who was ill the entire series, didn’t get a hit and is now at .261.

Collectively, the Brewers aren’t feeling a lot better. At 6-7, they are nowhere near the early league leaders in hitting, pitching or fielding.

“I think we’re going to pitch,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “I think we’re going to field. I’d like to see us hit more consistently.”

It was apparent the Brewers, without Fielder, were going to have to lead with their pitching and defense. But with their strength, starting pitching, struggling to find a rhythm, they will go nowhere unless their hitting comes around.

It really has nothing to do with Hairston except in the fleeting snapshot of a remarkable defensive play on getaway day of an early-season series. But if you’re a Brewers fan, you tend to think about such things.

“Great memories here,” Hairston said. “I’ll never forget it. Unbelievable fans. Great guys over there in that clubhouse.”

A small piece of a memorable 2011 season now sits in another clubhouse. Rosters are in constant flux, just like dynamics.

Last updated: 8:06 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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