With walk-off, Teixeira fully adjusted
MVP-caliber debut season only getting better in playoffs
NEW YORK -- This was some seven months before Mark Teixeira would watch a line-drive home run strike the top of a left-field fence in the Bronx and shoot into the sky, creating one of the most memorable moments in the history of a very young stadium.
Game 2 of the American League Division Series was still a dream on this sun-splashed February afternoon, as Teixeira toweled off after his first workout with his new club and vowed to quickly learn everything and anything about what it takes to be a New York Yankee.
That exchange is worth recalling because Teixeira indeed was a quick study, delivering on the promise of an eight-year, $180 million contract.
Friday's walk-off homer in the Yankees' 4-3 11th-inning win over the Twins only further underscores how huge Teixeira's impact has been, offensively and defensively -- an excellent fit as the heart of a club primed for postseason success.
"I really felt great about this team in Spring Training," Teixeira said. "I know we had a tough first month -- I had a tough first month. You might look at the series in Baltimore when Alex [Rodriguez] came back as one of the turning points of the season.
|Gm. 1||NYY 7, MIN 2||Wrap||Video|
|Gm. 2||NYY 4, MIN 3 (11)||Wrap||Video|
|Gm. 3||NYY 4, MIN 1||Wrap||Video|
"He hits a home run on his very first swing [on May 8], and it kind of put some life into our team. We've been rolling ever since."
Have they ever. The Yankees were a Major League-best 90-44 after Rodriguez's return from right hip surgery, and Teixeira seemed to be one of the main benefactors, now offered an imposing presence who hit behind him in the lineup as the switch-hitting first baseman turned Yankee Stadium jeers into cheers.
After May 8, Teixeira hit .310 in 131 games, leading the AL in home runs (34) and RBIs (107) over that span while transforming into a legitimate candidate for the Most Valuable Player Award.
"The very first week, when I came to Baltimore, we went out to lunch," Rodriguez said. "We talked about a lot of good things. I think we make a good combination. Obviously, he's a switch-hitter -- which is very powerful in the middle of the lineup -- and I'm righty. I think we make a good team. We help each other out."
Despite a slow start, Teixeira kept saying that he had confidence that if he kept powering forward and trying to be the player he knew he is, everything would eventually even out.
"You can't force anything," Teixeira said. "I can't try to be a different player than I am. I'm not going to go out there and steal a bunch of bases and hit .370. I'm going to be myself, and that translates on the field and in the clubhouse."
Perhaps Teixeira's adjustment to New York was accelerated by his experience of switching to new uniforms. Teixeira was traded by the Rangers to the Braves on July 31, 2007, and dealt again to the Angels nearly a year later to the day.
"I've had to adjust to three new teams in two years, so it's been very easy," Teixeira said. "Getting to know guys' names, new stadiums, I've played in both leagues and different divisions -- it's not like it was something new for me. I've had a pretty good experience in Atlanta and then Anaheim, so I was used to it."
Not that everyone understood. Before the Yankees swooped in and surprised the baseball world by one-upping their big spending on CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett by installing Teixeira at first base, there was widespread speculation that he would be headed elsewhere.
Put it this way: Teixeira didn't make any friends in New England with his decision to sign with the Yankees -- one of the reasons New York general manager Brian Cashman found it so important to make sure Teixeira would wear midnight blue and not Red Sox crimson.
The booing Teixeira heard during that May series at Baltimore's Camden Yards from his hometown crowds was lethal, but Teixeira just laughed it off, and he could have only imagined that it would be one of the turning points of New York's season.
"If you're uncomfortable getting booed in an opposing park, then you're not going to last a day in professional sports," Teixeira said. "If anything, it really fuels you. The worst experience I've ever had is going into certain parks -- and I won't name them -- with 4,000 fans, 6,000 fans. There is nothing worse. If you have 40,000 [people] screaming and they just happen to be booing you because you're the opposing team, that's great."
Bronx big shots
|'09 ALDS||M. Teixeira||J. Mijares||MIN|
|'03 ALCS||A. Boone||T. Wakefield||BOS|
|'01 WS||D. Jeter||B.H. Kim||ARI|
|'01 ALCS||A. Soriano||K. Sasaki||SEA|
|'99 WS||C. Curtis||M. Remlinger||ATL|
|'99 ALCS||B. Williams||R. Beck||BOS|
|'96 ALDS||B. Williams||R. Myers||BAL|
|'95 ALDS||J. Leyritz||T. Belcher||SEA|
|'76 ALCS||C. Chambliss||M. Littell||KC|
|'64 WS||M. Mantle||B. Shultze||STL|
|'49 WS||T. Henrich||D. Newcombe||BRO|
Teixeira certainly won't have to worry about quiet buildings this month, as the Yankees prepare to hear the rocking noise of the Metrodome on Sunday in Game 3 and hope that they can keep moving down the line in entertaining crowds in the Bronx, where they compiled the Majors' best home winning percentage of .704 (57-24) and celebrated yet another walk-off on Friday.
"We got what we needed when we needed it," manager Joe Girardi said. "[Rodriguez and Teixeira] are two guys that it's hard to navigate around. With [Hideki] Matsui behind them, too, it's really hard to navigate around them, and Tex being a switch-hitter really sets up our lineup really well."
It may not have started this way, with Teixeira being booed and staring at an ugly .198 batting average the day before Rodriguez pulled up his socks and delivered that Hollywood home run. But as Teixeira would happily tell you, it's not how you start, it's how you finish.
"Look at where we are now," Teixeira said. "Would you change anything about our season right now? I don't think anybody would. Sometimes, it takes a few bumps in the road to make your team stronger, and we definitely had them as a team."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.