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10/01/11 7:14 PM ET

Roenicke pushes right button with Hairston

Starting over McGehee, third baseman delivers at bat, in field

MILWAUKEE -- It turns out that starting Jerry Hairston Jr. at third base in the opening game of the 2011 postseason was not only the correct move. The way Hairston played, it was a brilliant move.

The Milwaukee Brewers defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks, 4-1, Saturday in the first game of a National League Division Series. Manager Ron Roenicke's decision to go with Hairston over regular third baseman Casey McGehee paid immediate dividends.

McGehee has been locked into a prolonged slump at the plate. And Hairston is also the better defender.

"I think that he's been swinging the bat better," Roenicke said of his decision in favor of Hairston. "He's also good defensively."

Acquired from the Nationals on July 30 for a prospect, after second baseman Rickie Weeks suffered a serious ankle sprain, Hairston has been an invaluable performer for the Brewers. He has started at second, third, shortstop and center field, and also entered games as a pinch-hitter and as a defensive replacement. His hitting has been at least adequate and, in any case, he has been more productive than McGehee.

Saturday, as the postseason began, Hairston contributed again. In what was for the most part a close game, Hairston made two sparkling plays at third and drove in the game's first run with a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning.

And actually, that just skims the surface. Hairston was 1-for-2 with a walk and the sacrifice fly. And calling it a "sacrifice fly" doesn't do that swing justice. With the bases loaded and no outs in the fourth, Hairston hit a laser to center.

Roenicke made the right move in this instance, and his faith in Hairston was rewarded rapidly and in more ways than one.

"Jerry had a great game," Roenicke said. "Defensively, [he] made a couple of outstanding plays -- big at-bat with the bases loaded there. If he doesn't hit that ball right at somebody, we score a lot of runs there. But [he hit a] line drive right at center [and] had another good at-bat later.

"So, a nice game for him. You know, sometimes you're not sure what to do, and you put a guy out there and he has a nice game and makes you feel good."

Hairston's performance made the Game 1 crowd of 44,122 at Miller Park feel good, as well. Roenicke declined to say who would get the start at third base in Game 2. But clearly, Hairston had done all he could do to promote his side of the discussion.

It's all part of the deal for the veteran utility man, who has played in all or part of 14 seasons in the Majors.

"That's my job, I've been doing that the last five or six years of my career," Hairston said. "I'm very comfortable playing just about anywhere. It's not easy.

"Willie Bloomquist [of the Diamondbacks] is very similar. We take pride in that. Wherever our manager asks us to play, we want to excel at it. Whether it's at shortstop, third or center field, we just want to do our job."

Hairston thought he might be getting a start in this game, but he comes prepared to play every day in any case.

"I've been playing a lot of third in the last week or so, I've been getting in there just about every day," he said. "I kind of anticipated. But I prepare myself every day to play. If I'm not starting, I feel like I might come in the game at some point, so just be ready to play."

Hairston made an excellent play on a smash by Chris Young leading off the second inning. But he made a play with perhaps an even greater degree of difficulty on Justin Upton with two outs and one on in the sixth. The speedy Upton hit a chopper toward third, and Hairston had to charge hard, make the classic, hurried scoop and throw, and put enough on the throw to get a runner with speed.

"I was playing really deep," Hairston said. "Obviously [Upton] has a lot of power. He's an unbelievable athlete, too. I knew I had to come and get it right away. He can get down the line. Really, there was no thought process, just get the ball and throw it as fast as I can and make the play."

Credit must go to both Hairston and Roenicke for this one. Hairston was once again ready when called upon. And Roenicke made a call that was both difficult and correct. McGehee remains a popular and respected figure on this team. If he were producing runs the way he did last season, the issue of someone else starting at third would never occur.

But it has occurred, and the results on Saturday indicated clearly that Roenicke's decision in favor of Hairston was the correct one.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.