Commentary

Mark Teixeira shows guts, gets glory

Yanks' first baseman is playing in great pain, yet hit game-winning homer vs. Twins

Updated: October 7, 2010, 6:52 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- There are two simple rules Mark Teixeira is being asked to live by for the duration of the Yankees' playoff run.

Rule No. 1: Try not to dive.

Rule No. 2: if you're going to swing, try not to miss.

And oh yeah, avoid fouling any more pitches off your right foot. (That last one was not so much a rule as a recommendation, since it's so difficult to control the flight of a batted ball.)

[+] EnlargeMark Teixeira
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesMark Teixeira hit his second huge postseason homer as a Yankee on Wednesday night -- both have come against the Twins.

So in the third inning of the Yankees' first game in the American League Division Series, there was Teixeira diving for a hot shot off the bat of Joe Mauer that otherwise would have wound up in right field.

In the sixth, he took a huge cut at a Francisco Liriano changeup and missed. Another no-no.

And then in the seventh inning, there was Teixeira hammering a Jesse Crain pitch straight down into the area of his right foot. Three strikes and you're out, right?

Wrong. Two pitches later, Teixeira took another swing -- this one at a hanging slider -- and the only thing he missed was the right-field foul pole. His moon shot curled just to the inside of it for the two-run home run that turned what could have been a disastrous opening night for the Yankees into a 6-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins -- a victory that could signal the beginning of another long playoff run.

"You know what? A game-winning home run, there's nothing better," Teixeira said. "Home runs when you're losing or home runs that don't end up being the difference, they're very empty. It's always an empty feeling when you lose. But this was a great feeling."

A feeling that was almost enough to mask the pain that still stabs through Mark Teixeira's foot (thanks to a foul ball that broke his right pinky toe on the last day of August) and into his right wrist (courtesy of a diving stop that caused him to land on the meaty part of his thumb four days earlier).

In fact, it was the thumb -- or wrist -- injury that has caused Teixeira the most trouble, curtailing his ability to take batting practice and derailing his hitting just when he was pulling out of the nosedive he began his season with in April.

In fact, the pain has been so bad that just two weeks ago, Teixeira took a cortisone shot in his right hand, a fact that Yankees manager Joe Girardi casually dropped into his private pregame discussion with the Yankees' beat writers.

"After he got the shot," Girardi said, as 11 pairs of eyebrows shot to the ceiling, "he seemed to be swinging the bat a lot better."

Girardi is notoriously secretive about injuries -- he would do well in the NFL or NHL -- but even for him, it was unusual that such a measure had never been mentioned. The cortisone shot is often one of the last steps before something truly drastic happens, like surgery. It is a crapshoot of a treatment that takes a few days to take effect, can provide quick relief, but wears off just as suddenly and sometimes does no good at all.

The revelation that Teixeira, known to have a high pain threshold, needed to go the cortisone route was an admission by the Yankees that their slugging first baseman was injured a lot worse than he or they had let on, and a likely explanation for why his production dropped off so drastically again in September.

"It helped a little bit," Teixeira said of the shot, which was administered on Sept. 20. "I thought over the past two weeks I've been taking better swings, my 'A' swing. Before the shot, I was getting jammed on 85-mile-an-hour fastballs."

On Wednesday night, batting left-handed against the right-handed Crain, Teixeira got around on an 82 mph slider that strayed into two dangerous zones -- up and over -- and clubbed it on a high arc down the right-field line. The only question was which side of the pole it would come down on.

"That was a huge hit for Tex," Girardi said. "He had a big hit against Minnesota for us last year, too [a walk-off in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 2 at Yankee Stadium]."

And a huge hit for the Yankees, who fell behind 3-0 after three innings on a night when CC Sabathia was very hittable, and probably beatable. The third Minnesota run scored as a direct result of the play on which Teixeira dived -- because by the time he got up, Orlando Hudson had scooted all the way from first to third, and then scored on a passed ball.

"I actually felt pretty good on that one," Teixeira said. "Anyway, that's a play I have to make. It was a great heads-up play on Hudson's part."

But the Yankees came back to take the lead with four runs in the sixth, capped by a Curtis Granderson two-run triple off Liriano, a lefty who had previously owned him (.182) but was probably left in a couple of batters too long by Ron Gardenhire.

Still, the Twins didn't go quietly, manufacturing the tying run in the bottom of the inning when Sabathia walked three batters, including Danny Valencia with the bases loaded.

But the game only remained tied for as long as it took Teixeira to come to bat in the next half-inning, following Nick Swisher's single with what proved to be the game-winning homer. Now, what had looked for six innings like it would be a tough series resembles a most familiar scenario -- Yankees meet Twins in October, Yankees beat Twins in October.

"I'm not sure Tex would ever tell me how much pain he was in. That's the type of player he is," Girardi said. "He's really tough and has a high pain threshold."

But Teixeira was not opposed to admitting to the media that yeah, it hurts to play on a broken toe and with a wrist that flames up when he swings and misses. "It has gotten better, but at the same time, you learn how to deal with it," he said. "You know, you break your toe and you bruise your hand the same week, you feel like you don't have feet or hands to work with. But right now, there's no time for worrying or taking days off."

He said neither the wrist nor the toe bothered him particularly Wednesday night, despite breaking all three rules he was supposed to be playing under.

That seventh-inning foul ball, however, was another matter.

"Got me in the calf," he said. "It never ends, does it?"

GAME NOTES: In their first postseason game at Target Field, the Yankees continued their playoff mastery over the Twins in Minnesota, winning their sixth straight here. … The game went one out longer than it should have when Greg Golson clearly made what should have been a game-ending shoestring catch of Delmon Young's sinking liner to right, only to have the umpires rule it a trap. On the next pitch, Mariano Rivera, called on for a four-out save, got Jim Thome to pop out. … Sabathia described his six-inning, four-run (three earned) outing as "just a grind." Pitching coach Dave Eiland said the 111 pitches Sabathia threw would have no impact on his expected Game 4 start Sunday on three days' rest. … Thursday's Game 2 matchup: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP Carl Pavano, first pitch 6:07 p.m.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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