Commentary

Ending slump serious business for Tex

Levity preceded Mark Teixeira's third homer, but he was dialed in for the at-bat

Updated: May 9, 2010, 12:02 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

BOSTON -- Something happened at Fenway Park on Saturday that players who participated in the game will be talking about for years, if not decades, to come.

It happened in the ninth inning of what was at the time a 12-3 blowout of the Red Sox, a margin that would only get worse, and it involved the center fielder of the New York Yankees, a position occupied by some of the greatest and most famous players ever to play the game.

It happened on a 3-2 pitch, a count on which many dramatic things happen, and it happened when most of the people left in the park probably least expected it, as is often the case.

At that moment, just about five hours after the first pitch of this rain-soaked, weather-delayed mess of a ballgame, Brett Gardner stood frozen as Jonathan Van Every's pitch -- identified in the official game account as a "79 mph changeup" -- crossed home plate, umpire Adrian Johnson pulled back his right arm, and the first out of the ninth inning was recorded.

"He's never gonna live that down," said Mark Teixeira, who was watching from the on-deck circle. "I'm gonna see him at Old-Timer's Day 40 years from now and we're gonna talk about that at-bat. Don't you worry about that."

Van Every, you see, is a reserve outfielder, and the pitch he threw wasn't a changeup, it was his fastball, which is pretty much the only thing in his repertoire.

And when you win a game the way the Yankees did Saturday -- 14-3 over a team that was supposedly a bitter rival and newly reconstituted as a club built on pitching, defense and run prevention -- you can afford to remember and laugh about foolishness like the center fielder for the New York Yankees, the position of DiMaggio and Mantle and Bernie Williams, looking at a third strike thrown by an outfielder.

Mark Teixeira
AP Photo/Michael DwyerAfter two homers and nine RBIs in April, Mark Teixeira produced three dingers and drove in five runs on Saturday alone.

The fact is, there were many more memorable moments in the game, not the least of which was Teixeira's own performance at the plate, the first three-homer day by a Yankee versus the Red Sox since Lou Gehrig. The Iron Horse, Teixeira's distant predecessor at first base, did it in 1927 for what is generally considered the greatest Yankees team of them all.

And to Teixeira, who just suffered through what has become his customary miserable April, the feat was not tainted in the least by the fact he, too, had his moment to remember while facing Van Every.

"I really beared down in that at-bat. I told myself, 'This isn't a position player, it's a pitcher who's trying to get me out,'" Teixeira said. "After he struck out Gardy, I thought, 'This guy may really have an idea.'"

Van Every's idea was to groove a pitch that wouldn't even have passed muster in batting practice.

"I wish it was always that easy," Teixeira said.

What he didn't say was that a month ago, Van Every might well have gotten him out. For the second straight April, and fourth of his eight major league seasons, Teixeira hit like a guy who would be overmatched batting against Johnny Damon. And in a career in which poor Aprils have become a bad habit, this April was Teixeira's worst of all -- .136 with just two homers and nine RBIs.

By comparison, April 2009 was explosive for him; he hit .200 with three homers and 19 RBIs. And his resurgence -- he finished with an MVP-caliber 39-homer, 122-RBI, .292 season -- roughly coincided with the return of Alex Rodriguez from preseason hip surgery.

Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of A-Rod's return to the lineup and perhaps in commemoration, Teixeira enjoyed his best hitting day of the season. In the fifth inning, he crushed a Clay Buchholz offering over the right-field fence for a solo homer that broke a 3-3 tie.

Two innings and more than two hours later, following a rain delay of 74 minutes, Teixeira belted a Ramon Ramirez fastball into the seats just beyond the Pesky Pole in right. That one extended the lead to 7-3.

By the time Teixeira came up in the ninth, the game was so far out of reach that Red Sox manager Terry Francona wasn't about to waste a real pitcher. Derek Jeter had led off the inning by just missing a home run high off the wall in left-center, then came Gardner's mortifying moment. Now it was Teixeira's turn.

"I was thinking, 'What do I look for here?'" Teixeira said. "I went up with my usual approach: Swing at strikes only, wait for a good pitch, try to get something up I the zone. And that's what happened."

No one had the heart to ask Teixeira -- who's deadly serious when it comes to baseball, even when it degenerates into the family reunion softball game -- if he really considered his third home run legitimate, or if he would accept the single-season record if he ends this season with, say, 74 homers.

You know he would, the same way Michael Strahan was happy to accept a sack record handed to him by Brett Favre. Besides, Teixeira has just come through a long, hard journey, and you don't kid a man who surely must have believed he was hopelessly lost.

"This game will humble you, and I was humbled the first few weeks of the season," Teixeira said. "I don't know why it seems to happen every year. I don't accept it, I don't expect it, I don't like it. But at the same time I always seem able to turn it around."

Teixeira turned it around this season by studying video of his at-bats, by putting in extra hours in the cage with hitting coach Kevin Long, by staying patient and, most of all, by taking every at-bat, even one against an outfielder, as seriously as if it were in the ninth inning of a Worlds Series game.

"I take the season one game at a time," he said. "I take the game one at-bat at a time. I take each at-bat one pitch at a time."

And it doesn't matter who's throwing.

Postgame chatter: CC Sabathia, who fell one out short of getting his fifth win of the season when the game was halted with two out in the fifth, said it was easier to accept not returning to this game than it would have been last month in Tampa, when Joe Girardi said he would not have allowed him to pitch the ninth inning even if he were working on a no-hitter. But Sabathia also conceded that had he given the matter much thought, he might have accelerated his work day. "If I had been paying attention, I might have speeded things up to get one more out," he said. "But the important thing is, we got the win." ... Alfredo Aceves, who got the win, left the game with stiffness in his lower back but said he should only be out 2-3 days. That's welcome news on a day when Nick Johnson went on the 15-day DL with inflammation in his right wrist and is expected to be out "several weeks," according to GM Brian Cashman. ... Infielder Kevin Russo, called up Saturday morning from Triple-A Scranton, made his major league debut as a defensive replacement for A-Rod in the eighth and had his first major league at-bat in the ninth -- also against Van Every. Like Gardner, he made an out. Unlike Gardner, he go this bat on the ball, flying to shallow right.

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.
Follow Wallace on Twitter »  Chat archive »

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE

MORE MLB HEADLINES