Ojeda plays his way into prominent role

Ojeda plays his way into prominent role

PHOENIX -- Augie Ojeda, the ex-Cub, has certainly undergone quite a transformation in the last month -- from warm body to supersub to, after his performance in Game 2, a spot in the limelight of all places.

Yes, that Ojeda, the journeyman who has bounced around the infield about as much as he has bounced around baseball since first breaking into the Major Leagues in 2000 with the very team he helped beat Thursday at Chase Field.

"Just a piece of the puzzle," Ojeda said after reaching base with two singles and driving in a run as the Diamondbacks defeated the Cubs, 8-4, for a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five National League Division Series.

Just a piece of the puzzle? Teammate Tony Clark isn't buying it, not after watching how Ojeda gave the Diamondbacks more than just a warm body at second base and someone to occupy a spot toward the bottom of the lineup after Orlando Hudson was lost for the season last month.

"Orlando Hudson goes down and we need someone who can not replace him, but can play solid defense and [provide] some timely hitting, and that's exactly what Augie has done," Clark said. "I shudder to think to where we might be without him."

That's right. On a team with a former Cy Young Award winner (Brandon Webb) in the rotation, a lights-out closer (Jose Valverde) and a handful of up-and-coming players that, apparently, have arrived (Stephen Drew, Chris Young, for instance), Clark is, to some degree, crediting some of the team's success to the 32-year-old Ojeda, who is on his third team.

Ojeda was in the middle of all things good -- and, well, all things weird -- on Thursday, as he went 2-for-4 with an RBI. He helped turn a difficult double play in the seventh inning and again made manager Bob Melvin look smart for penciling his name into the lineup.

"Augie has come up big for us. He's really rising to the occasion," Melvin said. "When you lose Orlando Hudson, who's arguably one of our better players, not arguably, he is one of our better players and our offensive All-Star, somebody is going to have to pick up the slack, and Augie definitely has."

In the fourth inning and with Arizona holding a 4-2 lead, Ojeda led off the inning against Cubs starter Ted Lilly by pushing a bunt up the first-base line that Chicago first baseman Derrek Lee made a nice play on, but missed Ojeda as he first swerved to avoid the tag and then slid safely into first base.

"I was trying to push it. The pitcher [Lilly] falls off toward third base so he's got to spin and turn around to get the ball," Ojeda said. "Derrek made a nice play, and I was able to avoid the tag."

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Chicago manager Lou Piniella argued that Ojeda left the baseline. The call stood. Three batters later, Ojeda and Young, who had walked, came around to score on Drew's two-run triple into the right-field corner.

An inning later, Ojeda singled up the middle to drive in a run in a two-run fifth that put the game out of reach, as Arizona increased its lead to 8-2.

In the first two games of the NLDS, Ojeda is hitting .571 and is tied for the team lead in hits (four) with Drew.

That Ojeda -- who began the season with Triple-A Tucson -- had a big game against the very team he played parts of four seasons (2000-03) with was certainly satisfying.

"I'm not going to lie. I've got a lot of friends out there," Ojeda said. "It feels special as a ballplayer ... to play your ex-team and ex-teammates, you want to do well. I just want to go out there and have fun and enjoy the game."

Not that the night went completely smooth for Ojeda, who was charged with an error in the ninth inning when Drew flipped him the ball for what should have been a force play at second base. But Ojeda took his eye off the ball and it hit him in the head.

"I was kind of surprised. I didn't see it come out of his hand. Once I saw it up in the air, I thought I had it," Ojeda said. "As an infielder and you're up by four runs ... you're just trying to get one out. But that surprised me a little bit."

But that's been about the only surprise the Diamondbacks have received from Ojeda. He seized the second-base job with a strong September (.327) after Hudson was lost with a torn ligament in his thumb, all while holding off Alberto Callaspo and Emilio Bonifacio for the starting job.

He's been the right guy at the right time, and the Diamondbacks can't imagine where they would be without him.

"He's been there, done that," Clark said. "This isn't his first rodeo."

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