Commentary

Tex finally breaks out -- but will it last?

Check the back of his baseball card; Yankees slugger will be fine ... he hopes

Updated: June 9, 2010, 10:17 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

BALTIMORE -- Mark Teixeira spent his day off Monday in his hometown -- hanging with family and friends, discussing politics with his grandfather, and talking to his grandmother about her great-grandchildren, who also happen to be Teixeira's children.

But whatever he did on Monday worked for Tuesday. For the first time in a month, Teixeira had three hits. And for the first time this month, he had a home run -- a two-run bomb that put the cherry on top of a 12-7 Yankees sundae against the Orioles at Camden Yards.

In fact, it was precisely a month ago, to the day, that Teixeira's manager and many of his teammates declared his early-season woes over after he hit three home runs, the last one a bomb off outfielder Jonathan Van Every, in a 14-3 blowout of the Red Sox at Fenway Park on May 8.

Tex When you have a good game, you say, 'OK, we had a good game, let's go get 'em tomorrow.' When you have a bad day, you say, 'OK, we had a bad day, let's go get 'em tomorrow.' It's the same thing every day. I just go through the grind.

-- Mark Teixeira,
on his daily approach

That night, Teixeira attributed his success to taking more swings in the batting cage; but when he followed that game with four more weeks of winter, going 24 for his next 112 at-bats with just three home runs, it was clear nothing had been solved that night at Fenway, and in fact Teixeira soon decided he was taking too many swings in the cage.

Clearly he had no idea what was going on, nor how to fix it. Instead, he kept repeating the same mantra -- "Look at the back of my baseball card" -- as his answer to every question, as if by magic the same numbers would appear there at the end of this season, too. But by the time he had struck out five times in six plate appearances Saturday in Toronto, Teixeira looked to be headed from Topps to Hallmark -- with his numbers for 2010 more suited to grace the inside of a sympathy card.

It had gotten so bad that before Tuesday night's game, manager Joe Girardi, protective of his players almost to a fault, refused to dismiss the suggestion that it might be time to drop Teixeira, a lifelong No. 3 hitter, to a lower spot in the lineup.

"As of now, no," Girardi said. "If I was to move him, I would talk to him before we did it, but right now, as of today, I don't have any plans to do that."

For the ultra-careful Yankees manager, that was practically an admission that yeah, he was thinking about it.

For the time being, Tuesday night's game has shelved those ideas. "Tex had a great game," Girardi said. "It just looked like he was staying on the ball longer, like he was trying to use the middle of the field; he was staying back. I thought he had great at-bats tonight.''

Girardi, too, attributed Teixeira's effectiveness Tuesday night to the day off on Monday. "I think getting away from it for a day and just being able to relax your mind really helps players a lot."

But thankfully, neither the player nor his manager insulted anyone's intelligence by suggesting that Teixeira's 57-game nightmare was finally, definitively over. "I have to tell you guys this every single day," Teixeira said. "When you have a good game, you say, 'OK, we had a good game, let's go get 'em tomorrow.' When you have a bad day, you say, 'OK, we had a bad day, let's go get 'em tomorrow.' It's the same thing every day. I just go through the grind."

Beating the Orioles, of course, is hardly a grind for the Yankees, and despite the final score, this was a game that was not remotely close. Phil Hughes had the Yankees ahead 6-3 after six innings thanks to Curtis Granderson's grand slam in the third, and his teammates added six more in the seventh on Teixeira's home run and a three-run double by Nick Swisher (who also had a homer and five RBIs). But Yankees reliever Chad Gaudin made it appear close when he allowed the hopeless Orioles to score four runs in the last two innings, two on a monster home run by Adam Jones in the eighth.

Still, this was a game that made Saturday night's Miguel Cotto-Yuri Foreman fight look competitive, and you were left hoping that new Orioles manager Juan Samuel would throw in the towel.

And things only get worse from here. The Yankees' starters for the remaining two games of the series -- CC Sabathia on Wednesday and A.J. Burnett on Thursday -- have a combined 11-1 record and 3.34 ERA against the Orioles in 15 career starts at Camden Yards.

Hughes, who ran his record to 8-1, may have let the truth slip when he said, "It's great to get those cheap wins sometimes," and by the time this series is over, the Yankees may well be tied for first place and Teixeira might actually be having a great season.

But just as we've seen the Yankees manhandle the Orioles this season, we've seen Mark Teixeira "turn the corner" -- only to have him run smack into a brick wall.

As Girardi said, with typical caution, "Hopefully now he'll stay consistent."

He knows that numbers on the back of an old baseball card are nice to look at, but it's only the numbers on the scoreboard that really matter.

Game notes


Girardi removed Brett Gardner for pinch-hitter Marcus Thames in the eighth, and afterward the manager said Gardner felt a "ding" in the left thumb he broke last season. Gardner said the pain happens occasionally when he gets jammed, as he did in a second-inning at-bat against Kevin Millwood, but that it "felt different" this time. "I'd rather be safe than sorry," Gardner said. "We'll see how it feels [Wednesday]." ... Girardi also removed Alex Rodriguez for Ramiro Pena in the eighth, but said A-Rod's troublesome right groin muscle -- which caused him to leave Sunday's game in the ninth inning -- was fine ... Sabathia's career record against the Orioles is 12-1 with a 2.60 ERA, and he has never lost at Camden (6-0, 2.33). His opponent will be RHP Chris Tillman (0-1, 7.71 ERA) .

Wallace Matthews is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. 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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