Teixeira's hustle not overlooked
Scoring from first on error, slugger earns teammates' praise
NEW YORK -- Mark Teixeira is not exactly known for his speed -- that's no secret around the Majors. He knows it and has no problem admitting as much. When the Yankees need speed, Teixeira is not one of the first players they want to see on the basepaths.
That's what makes his hustle in Friday's stunning 9-8 win over the Mets even more impressive. Even though Alex Rodriguez's popup to second baseman Luis Castillo appeared to be the game-ending out, Teixeira never stopped running. When the ball dropped, he managed to score all the way from first with the winning run on a hit that barely reached the outfield grass.
It was an improbable hustle play from one of the most unlikely sources. But Teixeira's mad dash was an example of one timeless baseball adage -- run hard until the play is over. When the ball is put in play, anything can happen.
Little Leaguers, take notice.
"Scoring from first base on a ball to the second baseman just doesn't happen very much, especially with me," Teixeira said. "It's hard for me to score on a hit from second base to the outfield. As soon as I slid in, I hugged [shortstop Derek Jeter] and I said 'What just happened?' because I couldn't believe it."
Teixeira never even saw the play. He was too busy running -- with his head down, just the way it's taught.
Like everyone else, when he saw Rodriguez's popup loft quietly into the air, Teixeira was thinking the game was over. It was a routine play. Still, he found it in him to run. Though he assumed the Yankees were moments away from a disappointing one-run loss, Teixeira never sulked. He just kept running.
Teixeira said it took him about 90 feet to reach full speed, but when he hit second, he never slowed down. After all, he said, "You never know what could happen." This time, the cliche held some truth.
When Teixeira looked up, he saw third-base coach Rob Thomson "looking intently, like something was going on," Teixeira said. Suddenly, Thomson waved him home, and Teixeira put on the afterburners. Second gear, he called it.
"I don't have a third, fourth or fifth, so I just tried to run as hard as I could and get home," Teixeira said.
Teixeira slid into home well ahead of the throw and was immediately mobbed by his teammates, who were flowing out of the dugout and onto the field to greet him.
They were demonstrating their appreciation for Teixeira's hustle. After the game, much of the attention was given to Castillo and his crushing gaffe. But the Yankees were in agreement: Teixeira's hustle essentially won the game. As far as they were concerned, he deserves as much credit as Castillo deserves blame.
"That's why Tex has the belt tonight," said outfielder Nick Swisher, referring to a faux wrestling championship belt awarded each night to the game's most valuable player. "A lot of guys in that situation might assume the catch. But Tex is busting his tail from first base and ended up scoring the winning run. That's got to be a classic finish."
To Yankees manager Joe Girardi, the hustle was just another unexpected way Teixeira can contribute. Girardi said that Teixeira -- who also added his American League-leading 20th home run to go with his .290 batting average and 54 RBIs -- was the reason the Yankees were able to steal a win.
Since May 4, when he was batting .182, Teixeira has hit .347 (50-for-144), with 17 homers and 44 RBIs.
"I see it hit the ground, then I look, and I see Tex running and running and running," Girardi said. "We talked about the type of player Tex is and how hard he plays the game. I said he's a baseball player, and he was a baseball player because he never gave up, and that's why we won."
Rodriguez took it a step further. Teixeira wasn't just the reason the Yankees won on Friday -- he's a big part of the reason the Yankees are nine games over .500 and fighting for the American League's best record. His hustle on Friday was yet another example of why Teixeira has been not just the Yankees' best player, but perhaps the best player in the AL.
"What stands out is Mark Teixeira's hustle," Rodriguez said. "That wins the game. To me, that's why he's my MVP of the American League right now. He's doing everything. That kind of hustle is indicative of what Mark Teixeira brings to our team."
Jared Diamond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.