It's been about a month, or the length of the Yankees' run through October, into November and to the verge of their 27th World Series championship.
It's been 14 games, 58 at-bats, nights warm and cool and frigid, indoors and outdoors, pitches he should have hit and should have let pass.
He's still smiling from the back of the tabloids, however, still being lauded for his glovework at first base, still getting carried along by a resurgence he once fueled and back-slapped for the occasional big hit. Mark Teixeira, one of the guys.
Teixeira, whose share of the Yankee Inc. market adjustment was $180 million over eight seasons, will draw enough votes to finish in the top 10 of a regular-season MVP race for the second time in his career. A season after their club failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, Yankees fans fell hard for Teixeira, the clean-cut, hard-working, even-better-than-advertised first baseman.
While Alex Rodriguez(notes) recovered from hip surgery, Teixeira pushed an offense that, by the end of the regular season, was the highest scoring in baseball. He was an All-Star and led the league in total bases, home runs (tied with Carlos Pena(notes)) and RBIs. He did all that while forgiving his infielders their wayward throws, grinning boyishly, and standing up straight and tall.
The man was barely flawed.
So it comes as some surprise that Teixeira is batting .105 in the World Series and .172 for the postseason. He has struck out 16 times, including seven times in 19 World Series at-bats. He is hitless in six at-bats against the Phillies with runners in scoring position, and as soft as the switch-hitter has been right-handed (.214), he's almost lifeless left-handed (.133).
The Yankees are here in large part because of him, and still winning partly in spite of him, and if the Yankees get a win sometime over the next two nights no one would give it another thought. There's also the point that two of Teixeira's hits – the tomahawk, walk-off home run in Game 2 of the division series against the Twins and his home run off Pedro Martinez(notes) in Game 2 of the World Series – led directly to wins. So, he's not been completely helpless, though it's sometimes looked like it.
In the aftermath of the Yankees' loss Monday night in Philadelphia – he struck out against Ryan Madson(notes) with Johnny Damon(notes) on second base to end the game – the questions about his slump came in earnest. By Tuesday afternoon, as he prepared to take batting practice under a green-gray sky, he was again asked about his approach, his mechanics, his head.
And he was again enduringly upbeat. All's well, he said.
“Just not getting hits,” he said.
These were, of course, all of the attributes that for years earned his teammate, Alex Rodriguez, unrelenting scorn. The good news for Teixeira, he has A-Rod, who happens to be having one of the great October/Novembers in Yankees history. When he stunk, A-Rod didn't have A-Rod. Teixeira gets encouragement. A-Rod was relegated to batting eighth.
The difference is, these Yankees are poised to win. And that's all anybody ever demanded from the Yankees, no matter where A-Rod hit, and no matter what Teixeira is hitting. Or not hitting. If Derek Jeter(notes) is going to hit and Damon is going to get on base and Jorge Posada(notes) is going to hit (left-handed) and they're going to pitch and the Yankees are going to win, then Teixeira can spend the day gathering batting practice balls, cleaning up low throws and saving some hot water for the big hitters. Around here, they count banners.
“When you need to win four games,” Rodriguez said Tuesday, “it only takes one moment. If Johnny Damon gave us just that one at-bat the other night, that was his share of it. Mark has had big hits. He hits a three-run double tomorrow night, he's done his part. More than his part.”
There is still the matter of one more.
Teixeira said he's trying to help, to do a little something every day to chip in. You sort of like your $180-million players to think bigger than that, maybe, but it worked all year.
“Sometimes you get hits,” he said. “Sometimes you don't.”
Besides, he said, it's not about numbers in October, it's about winning games.
“Stats don't matter right now,” he said. “Over a 162-game season, you look at the stats and say, 'OK, that's the kind of player he is.' ”
In the postseason, often enough, he said, “You try to win a battle here and there.”
Then, if you're really lucky, your teammates are winning a lot more than you are. It happens. And, just in case, Teixeira keeps smiling.
- Mark Teixeira