NEW YORK — Where there’s life, there’s hope, and there’s still a flicker of life in these Yankees.
There’s still some life in Mark Teixeira too, but while Teixeira says he’s done at the end of this season, whenever that turns out to be, the New York Yankees aren’t ready to concede the end of anything yet.
For the second time in three days, the Yankees rallied to win in the ninth inning, and in both those games, it was Teixeira, with one bum knee, a stiff neck and 36 hard years on his body clock, who hit a key home run. On Monday in Toronto, it was a solo shot that tied that brawl-marred game 3-3 on the way to a 7-5 Yankees win. Teixeira thought that might have been his last home run in the major leagues, so he celebrated with a most uncharacteristic bat flip.
But Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, he went one better. Or, actually, three better, as he belted a two-out, walk-off grand slam to turn a looming 3-1 loss into a stunning 5-3 victory and rob the Red Sox of the full pleasure of celebrating their AL East title, courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles’ beating the Blue Jays in Toronto.
Teixiera passed up the bat flip this time but made sure to retrieve the baseball, which, once again, might turn out to be the last home run he ever hits. He didn’t mind that it was a little wet and sticky with celebratory Gatorade.
“Oh, man. You don’t want a wall-scraper in an 8-0 game to be your last one. You want a walk-off grand slam against the Red Sox,” he said. “I’ll still be trying to hit one the next four games, but if it just happens to be my last one, that’ll be pretty special.”
It was special not only because it was a game winner but also because it was a potential season saver. The Orioles’ come-from-behind win meant that a Yankees loss would have eliminated them from contention for that last AL wild-card spot, a berth being avidly sought by four teams.
By the numbers, the Yankees have the slimmest chance of those four to make it, but what odds would you have given that the injury-riddled Teixeira, who has trouble playing three games in the span of a week, would hit two huge home runs in three days?Or that the Yankees, held to one hit — an infield single by Brett Gardner in the fourth, no less — through eight innings, could rally against Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel, who had struck out 11 of his previous 19 hitters and had not allowed a hit against the Yankees in five appearances this season?
Kimbrel couldn’t find the plate on this night, as he allowed a single, uncorked a wild pitch and walked three batters. The last walk was a key, 10-pitch at-bat by Brian McCann that forced in a run. John Farrell decided this wasn’t Kimbrel’s night and went to Joe Kelly. Kelly got two quick outs and a first-pitch strike on a curveball to Teixeira before firing a 99 mph fastball that ran down and in. Teixeira, batting lefty, sent it on a line into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center field, and just like that, one celebration was muted while another was just beginning.
“You never want to see a team celebrate on your home field,” Teixeira said. “Or celebrate at all, for that matter, so yeah we’ll take that as a positive tonight.”
Teixeira, who has started just 13 of the 26 games the Yankees have played in September, was not sure he would be capable of playing Thursday. He didn’t play Tuesday and said he hadn’t so much as picked up a bat. The day off allowed him to come in well enough to play Wednesday, though he said his neck still hurt.
“I won’t know if I’ll be able to play until I get here [Thursday],” he said. “It’s that kind of a thing. I’ll play a day or two, and then I need a day off. That usually does wonders for me.”
Teixiera’s inability to stay healthy is a big reason the Yankees’ offense has been so ineffective the past couple years, and the run of injuries he has sustained since tearing a wrist tendon sheath in the 2013 WBC makes it easy to forget what an offensive powerhouse and everyday workhorse he had been through the first nine seasons of his career.
Minnesota Twins. Maybe the Yankees don’t get to the World Series that year without that homer and we’re talking about a 16-year championship drought.
But he hit that one to keep one dream alive, and he hit this one to keep another dream alive, however improbable it might be.