Hairston's heroics lead Yanks to Game 2 winYankees utility man makes most of first playoff game
Hairston was traded to the Yankees for Minor League catcher Chase Weems, a deal which made fans wanting the big bang snort, but one of those overlooked transactions that tend to pay off beyond anyone's wildest imaginations.
Hairston was in the staircase, the Yankees down by a run in the 11th inning and three outs from yet another galling loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. If Alex Rodriguez, hitless in four at-bats when he stepped to the plate against Angels closer Brian Fuentes, were to make an out, Hairston would be pinch-hitting for Freddy Guzman.
From his viewpoint, Hairston saw A-Rod's bat connect with the ball, and summoned for help from the heavens that were dressing Yankee Stadium with raindrops for enough lift to give the Yankees new life.
A-Rod blasted his third postseason home run -- all three have either tied the game or given the Yankees the lead -- into the right field seats. Guzman hit for himself and was overmatched, but Hairston and his versatility needed to be kept in reserve, just in case.
One of 14 players in Major League history who had played in at least 1,000 regular season games without competing in the playoffs, Hairston finally had his chance. He thought back to when he was in Anaheim last month, when the pain he felt in his wrist scared him to death. He thought about his late grandfather Sam, a former Negro League player who made his lone big-league appearance with the White Sox in the 1951 season. He told himself you only get a couple of chances -- perhaps just one -- to play this late in October, and thought deeply on what Sam would say to him at that moment.
"He'd say, 'Hit the ball hard somewhere,'" Hairston said. He did, smacking a line drive to left-center field off Ervin Santana to start the 13th. He moved to second on Brett Gardner's sacrifice bunt and took off when Melky Cabrera hit a bouncer in the hole between first and second.
"When Melky hit the ball, I was kind of anticipating it might get through," Hairston said. "When our third base coach held me up, I turned my head to see what happens because you never know if the ball gets kicked around."
Fate smiled on the Yankees -- again. Maicer Izturis attempted to throw across his body to force Robinson Cano -- intentionally walked -- at second. The throw skipped past shortstop Erik Aybar. Chone Figgins at third base tried to pick it up, but fumbled it, so Hairston hit the gas and slid home with the winning run.
Game over. Yankees win, 4-3, in a grand five hours and 10 minutes. They boarded a 2 a.m. bus to their charter that took them to Southern California with a 2-0 lead in the series -- two wins from their first AL pennant since 2003.
The final Compubox numbers read like the Apollo Creed-Rocky Balboa bloodbaths. The teams left a combined 28 men on base and were 3-for-23 with runners in scoring position. A total of 432 pitches (230 by the Yankees) were thrown by 13 hurlers in the longest postseason game by innings since Houston beat Atlanta, 7-6, in 18 on Oct. 9, 2005.
Here's why winning ugly is so pretty in these parts: The Yankees were 52-1 this season when holding their opponent to two runs or less, 4-0 in playoffs, and 15-0 in regular season when the score was tied after seven innings, 2-0 in the playoffs.
"That was a fun game," Rodriguez said. "I didn't do much the rest of the night, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I had a blast out there. That was a great game."
It was shaping up to be another galling loss to Mike Scioscia's Angels before Rodriguez decided it was again time to play savior. Joe Girardi had shoved his all his chips to the center of the table by summoning Mariano Rivera with two outs in the eighth, having used Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes for a combined six batters in 2/3 of an inning. By the end of the night, Chad Gaudin was the last man standing and Girardi had him pegged for 75 pitches before entering the "Now what?" stage.
Thanks to more clutch pitching by David Robertson, more bumbling by Angels infielders and Hairston's hustle, all's forgiven, even Girardi's obsessive use of his bullpen. Even though it took five hours for him to get into the game, Hairston utilized the Stadium's indoor batting cage and other state-of-the-art facilities to stay loose, stay ready. This was his first postseason game and nothing -- neither rain nor cold -- nothing was going to freeze him and deny him his first great moment.
"Playing for the Yankees in the new Yankee Stadium, the fans have been terrific," Hairston said. "When Al hit that game-tying home run, this place erupted. We knew as a team that something special was going to happen."