Saturday, August 15, 2009

Teixeira For MVP

Few people doubted the Yankees' signing of Mark Teixeira was going to turn out to be a good one. Even fewer realized just how good.

Even though he's long been regarded as one of the top players in the game, he also has the Jeterian quality that if you don't get to watch him every day, you just can't see all the little things he does and just how great he truly is.

All of that has made him the best player on the game's best team and on Friday Teixeira added to his MVP-caliber resume by hitting a tie-breaking homer leading off the ninth to lead the Yankees to a 4-2 come-from-behind victory over the Mariners in Seattle. The Yankees have won four straight and 10 of 11 to remain 6-1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East.

When Brian Cashman signed Teixeira, everyone knew the Yankees were getting a great, middle-of-the order bat and an outstanding glove. He's more than fulfilled those expectations.

For the season, Teixeira is hitting .288 with 30 homers, 86 RBI and a .950 OPS. And since the All-Star break as the Yankees have surged ahead in the division and seized he majors' best record at 73-43, he's hitting .327 with nine homers and 23 RBI. With runners in scoring position for the season, he's lifted his average to .270 (it has been below .250 at the break) with four homers and 50 RBI.

That's outstanding! And his defense has been just as good, committing just one error in 939 chances, including 42 assists. The Yankees no long need a defensive caddy like they did with Jason Giambi, which improves their bench and gives them better roster flexibility.

In addition, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez have combined to make just 16 errors this season, down from 35 last year. Teixeira's glove is a huge part of that.

What goes unnoticed outside of New York, though, is Teixeira's leadership on the infield. Players throughout the season have said that he takes charge and makes sure the other guys out there are positioned properly and understand their responsibilities on a given play. No one outside the organization knew he would do that when Cashman signed him.

But he got the job done Friday with his stick.

Tied at 2, Teixeira was looking to crush a mistake from Mark Lowe and he got one on a 1-and-1 changeup, sending it deep into the stands in right and doing a little Sammy Sosa-hop as he left the box.

“No doubt. I have one thing in mind there,” he said. “When you have a good pitcher out there, you hope he makes a mistake. If he doesn’t give you that one good pitch, maybe you can walk and start a big inning. But I had one thing in mind and he left a pitch over the middle of the plate."

It was a blast that just took all hope out of the Mariners from winning this game. Two outs later Robinson Cano doubled and scored on Nick Swisher's single to make it 4-2 before Mariano Rivera closed it out on nine pitches for his 34th save and 30th in a row.

This would have been a tough loss for the Yankees to suffer. After allowing the first three hitters of the game to reach on hits, Andy Pettitte got out of the first inning having allowed two runs, but settled down to stop the Mariners cold.

He allowed just three more hits the rest of the way, walked one and struck out 10 in six innings, throwing 66 of 111 pitches for strikes. Even through Pettitte's just 1-1 in six starts since the All-Star break, he's been the team's best starter, posting a 2.04 ERA with a 1.03 WHIP and 43 strikeouts in 39-2/3 innings.

The Yankees, though, made sure Pettitte wouldn't suffer a hard-luck loss as Jorge Posada led off the second with a double off the top of the right field wall before he came around to score on a fielder's choice by Jerry Hairston Jr., who started again at third in place of A-Rod. Melky Cabrera scored the tying run in the fifth on a single by Jeter.

One last note from the game was another scoreless inning pitched by Brian Bruney in the seventh. That makes five scoreless inning in his last four outing as he finally appears to be rounding back into the form he had at the beginning of the season prior to his injury. He's becoming another weapon in that bullpen and look for Joe Girardi to start going to him more often in the seventh and in big spots.

Bruney did the job Friday, and along with Phil Hughes (5-3), who pitched a scoreless eighth, they kept the Mariners at bay, giving Teixeira his chance to do his MVP-type thing.

Runners In Scoring Position
2-for-5 (.400)
283-for-1,086 (.261)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
67-for-265 (.253)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
218-for-814 (.268)
Vs. Red Sox
20-for-126 (.159)

Up Next
Saturday at Seattle, 10:10 p.m., YES
Sergio Mitre (1-1, 7.04 ERA) vs. Luke French (2-2, 4.31)

Before we get the matchup, I have to rant about this. West Coast teams should not be allowed to play night games on weekends or getaway games when they face teams from the East Coast. Have some consideration for the East Coast fans, many of whom don't get to see their teams when the game starts at 10 p.m. Eastern Time.

OK. As for today's game, it's Mitre. Ugh. The good news is Alfredo Aceves is already warming up in the bullpen and ready ... and as I'm writing this, first pitch isn't for another 13 hours.

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