Commentary

Teixeira takes huge home run in stride

Yanks' slumping slugger insists he's not panicking, and hits go-ahead blast on Sunday

Updated: June 2, 2010, 12:29 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- To hear Mark Teixeira tell it, this was just one of an estimated 650 trips to the plate this season, nothing more and nothing less, and just one of the 250 home runs he has already hit in his career and of the unknown number of pitchers' mistakes that still lay ahead of him waiting to be hit out of a ballpark.

[+] EnlargeMark Teixeira
Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesMark Teixeira has been struggling at the plate, but had one big swing on Sunday.

But those are merely the public words of a proud man who knows he is better than he has shown lately and has been itching for a chance to demonstrate it once again.

Teixeira, whose three-run homer in the seventh inning propelled the Yankees to a 7-3 win over the Cleveland Indians on Sunday at Yankee Stadium, will not even admit to feeling a pang of relief over finally coming through in a big situation because, to hear him tell it, all at-bats are pretty much created equal.

"That's the way you have to take it,'' he said. "It's a long season and you can't just take it in small samples. This whole month has been good, overall. I'll take the May that I had and extrapolate it the rest of the season.''

You've got to love an athlete who can use the word ''extrapolate'' in a sentence, and correctly no less, as much as you've got to admire one who can shrug off a month of absolutely hideous performance (see: April) and continue to believe that with his very next swing, everything will be all right again.

But it was hard not to look at Teixeira's at-bat against Tony Sipp in the seventh inning and not see it as a metaphor for the first two months of the 2010 season -- the same way it is impossible not to hope it will serve as a precursor for the remaining four.

"Maybe with Tex we're just going to turn the calendar to June and everything will be straightforward,'' manager Joe Girardi said. "He's been fighting through it, but we needed a big hit today and he comes up with it.''

If you look at things the way the men in uniform do, Teixeira's at-bat against Sipp would have been a good one even if it had not ended the way it did, with the baseball arcing high into the blue skies above the Bronx and coming down in the second section of left-field bleachers, way out in the neighborhood where the seats change from blue plastic to silver aluminum.

He quickly fell behind 0-2, then took two balls to even the count. He just missed crushing Sipp's 2-2 offering, a fastball that he fouled straight back, and suddenly you got the feeling that Teixeira might be about to deliver in a season that so far has been one of unfulfilled promise.

So when Sipp came back with a slider that didn't slide, the resulting crack of the bat came as no real surprise. It almost looked as if Teixeira knew what was coming and the rest of us knew where it was going.

"That was a pure react,'' Teixeira said. "I'm not really much of a guess hitter. I wasn't thinking fastball or slider, just looking for something I could put a good swing on. Hopefully it falls in. And when you hit it up in the seats like that, nobody's going to catch it.''

Teixeira, who had gotten a good look at Sipp while drawing a walk against him Friday night, was set up for his big moment by Derek Jeter, who two batters earlier had drawn the Yankees to within one run (and more importantly chased Indians starter Justin Masterson, who had baffled them for six innings) with a two-RBI double.

That atoned somewhat for an error charged to Jeter the previous half-inning on a throw Teixeira arguably should have been able to handle, which led to two unearned Cleveland runs, extending a skimpy 1-0 lead to a sturdier-looking 3-0.

Had Jeter not knocked Masterson out of the game, maybe Curtis Granderson makes the third out, or maybe Teixeira rolls over a slider, the way he did in the sixth. And maybe the Yankees head into Memorial Day hoping only to salvage a split of a four-game series with one of the worst teams in the American League.

But it didn't happen that way, and no matter how Teixeira tries to minimize the importance of a single at-bat -- or, for that matter, a single game -- he was set up either for spectacular success or spectacular failure.

"If ever there was a formula for baseball, that's it,'' Girardi said. "You can't draw it up any better.''

Or execute it any more perfectly. Yes, by the numbers Teixeira's May has been far better than his April -- he is batting .273 this month with five of his eight homers and 22 of his 34 RBIs. But it was only a week ago at Citi Field, after a bad loss to the Mets in which he struck out three times, when Teixeira was still groping for answers.

After attributing his early-May success -- he began the month with 12 hits in his first 30 at-bats, including three homers -- to taking more batting practice, he now is saying his swing has benefited recently from less time in the cage.

"I just took a step back,'' he said. "Maybe I was overdoing it in the cage. For me, bat speed's everything and if I have a slow bat I'm not going to be successful. Nothing's ever come easy my entire career. I've always worked hard and sometimes I overdo it. I never take anything for granted.''

And yet, he has taken for granted that by the time all of 2010 is added up, his average career numbers will be where they always are -- a belief shared by his teammates. "I haven't worried about Tex one bit,'' Nick Swisher said. "I just look at the back of his baseball card.''

Sometimes that's all you can do, without worrying about how they actually get there.

GAME NOTES: A day after the Yankees' bullpen imploded and gave back a five-run lead to the lowly Indians, A.J. Burnett allowed Girardi to avoid using all but the most reliable arm in his 'pen, Mariano Rivera, who pitched a spotless ninth in a non-save situation. "That was my main goal today, to hand the ball over to Mo in the ninth," said Burnett (6-2), who was brilliant in allowing five hits and just one earned run, striking out eight in eight innings. … Swisher rammed his right shoulder into the right-field wall and knocked the wind out of himself trying to catch Jason Donald's seventh-inning triple, but proclaimed himself good to go for Monday's series finale. … RHP David Robertson, who left Saturday's game with a lower back strain, said he was fine before Sunday's game but was held out of action by Girardi. … Granderson, who has a career .209 batting average against left-handed pitchers, had a big double off the lefty Sipp just before Teixeira's HR. That was his second straight double off a lefty -- the last one was Friday, also off Sipp. … Monday's pitching matchup: LHP Andy Pettitte (6-1, 2.62 ERA) vs. RHP Mitch Talbot (6-3, 3.73).

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees 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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