Commentary

Yanks put muscle behind Tex's hustle

Mark Teixeira's first-inning diligence sets stage for Bombers' latest rout of BoSox

Updated: July 28, 2012, 7:55 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- It doesn't seem to take much to beat the Boston Red Sox these days. Friday night at Yankee Stadium, all it took was the most basic of skills executed in a relatively primitive fashion.

"I was just running hard," Mark Teixeira said. "It's the way I've always played. I don't have a lot of speed, but I try to use as much as I have."

It turned out the key play of the game was a simple play the Red Sox couldn't execute -- a routine double play that would have gotten them out of the first inning without a allowing run -- and one the Yankees, and specifically Teixeira, could, the often-overlooked chore of running hard for the 90 feet between home plate and first base.

If it seems silly to focus on a first-inning play in a game that ended up as 10-3 rout for the Yankees, consider that if the Red Sox turn two there, they take a 1-0 lead into the second and force Phil Hughes back out to the mound after a grueling 28-pitch top of the inning.

Instead, the bottom of the inning continued, and six pitches later, Raul Ibanez launched a shot into the right-field seats that gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead they never gave back.

Teixeira's hustle stole the Yankees a win at Citi Field in 2009, when Mets shortstop Luis Castillo botched what should have been a game-ending popup.

"I've always hustled, you know," Teixeira said. "When I was a kid, my dad never got mad at me for striking out or popping out or making an error, but if I didn't hustle, that's when he would get on me. It was just a lesson I learned as a young kid. I've always run hard. And after the home run, you realize it was a three-run play."

And while that is only one of the differences between these two formerly competitive teams right now -- one does the little things needed to win, the other doesn't -- it was enough to put a commanding 11½-game cushion between the Yankees at the top of the AL East and the Red Sox at the bottom.

The Yankees added a two-run homer by Russell Martin -- you read that correctly -- in the fourth and a Granderslam, Curtis Granderson's 28th home run, in the eighth, to officially turn the game into a rout.

[+] EnlargeMark Teixeira
AP Photo/Seth WenigMark Teixeira's mad dash in the first set up Raul Ibanez's decisive three-run homer.

And although afterward all the Yankees who were asked about Boston were careful to say the right things, it was obvious not only from the lopsided score but from the relative lack of buzz in the house -- this could easily have been mistaken for a game against the Cleveland Indians or the Kansas City Royals -- that this once-great rivalry has been seriously compromised.

"I would not be surprised if this team makes a run," said Teixiera, still hustling, about the Red Sox. "Papi [David Ortiz] is hurt right now, but when he gets back and a couple of their other pitchers get healthy, who knows? They could really make a run. Every win against them counts."

Phil Hughes, who went seven fairly tidy innings (five hits, three of them solo home runs) to earn his 10th win of the season, got into the diplomacy act as well.

"They're dangerous," he said. "Obviously, without Papi in their lineup, it's different. He's a real threat in the middle of that order. Other than that, they're the same team. They're not an easy team to deal with, and we have to treat them like that."

Joe Girardi, of course, skirted the issue altogether. "We're just plugging away trying to win baseball games," he said. "That's really all I can tell you."

But he really said it all a few moments earlier when asked to explain how his team had been able to overcome so many injuries without losing its spirit or its stride.

"They don't focus on the negative, they focus on the job at hand," the manager said of his team. "You're going to go through injuries. Every team is going through it and we're not immune to it, but they focus on what they got to do that day, who's in the lineup and they go to work."

For all that has been made of the injury bug that's taken a chunk out of Boston, the Yankees fielded a lineup last night that included three players who in spring training were not expected to play where they played last night -- Ibanez in left, Eric Chavez replacing the injured Alex Rodriguez at third, and the newly acquired Ichiro Suzuki in right, replacing the injured Brett Gardner.

And with Nick Swisher out of action for the sixth straight game with a hip flexor strain, the Yankees were forced to go with a right-handed-hitting DH, Andruw Jones, against Aaron Cook, the Red Sox's right-handed starting pitcher.

Plus, they had Hughes, who at this time last season was still struggling to make it back into the rotation from a horrendous first half, starting against a team that had beaten him in 6 of 8 decisions and against whom he had a 6.49 ERA.

With all that, the game was never really a contest once Teixeira beat out that double-play ball, helped immensely by Red Sox shortstop Mike Aviles' hesitance on the play, a gaffe he repeated in the eighth inning on Ichiro's grounder, which led to Granderson's grand slam.

Because for all the Yankees diplomatic talk, there was really no key player in the Red Sox lineup Friday night who was as good as his Yankees counterpart.

Of course, Derek Jeter is easily better than Aviles. As good as Dustin Pedroia is, he is no better than a wash with Robinson Cano, and this season that is being quite generous. Even at 40 years old, you'd have taken Ibanez over Carl Crawford, and Granderson is certainly a lot more dangerous than Jacoby Ellsbury. This year, Teixeira, even hitting .262, mops the floor with Adrian Gonzalez, and Jones is a more formidable DH than Daniel Nava.

You can make a case for Jarrod Saltalamacchia over the struggling Martin, and Will Middlebrooks over the oft-injured Chavez, and even Cody Ross as a match for the soon-to-be 39 Ichiro.

But where the Yankees have really set themselves apart this season is on the mound. Last night, Hughes looked as good or better than the Red Sox's nominal ace, Josh Beckett, or their de facto ace, Jon Lester, who is having a miserable year after a string of four brilliant seasons.

The Yankees, who chased Lester out of the fifth inning at Fenway three weeks ago, will get another look at him Saturday. But they have their own ace, CC Sabathia, going in the middle game of this three-game series.

"It's too early to write off anybody right now," Teixeira said. "We saw the way that worked in both the National League and the American League last year with the wild card. You just never know until the last game of the season."

It's easy to be magnanimous when you win. And especially when you win by executing the most basic of baseball tasks, the 30-yard dash from home plate to first base.

That's all it took for the Yankees to subdue the Boston Red Sox on Friday night, in a game between teams who these days are separated by a lot more than the 250 miles between their two cities.

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.
Follow Wallace on Twitter »  Chat archive »

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE

MORE MLB HEADLINES