>By TYLER KEPNER
Published: September 21, 2009

ANAHEIM, Calif. — There are many things Mark Teixeira can do on a baseball field, many virtues that enticed the Yankees to pry him from the Los Angeles Angels last December with an eight-year, $180 million contract. But one attribute stands out to him most.

It is nothing as subtle as scooping bad throws at first base or wearing down a pitcher with walks. It is the least subtle skill of all. Teixeira loves to hit home runs.

“You can try to hit for as high an average as you want,” Teixeira said. “You can try to work walks. But at the end of the day, if you can hit home runs, you want to hit home runs. That’s something not many people can do.”

Teixeira knows from experience the value of power. He hit .467 for the Angels in their division series last fall, but all of his hits were singles. The Angels lost in four games to the Red Sox, hitting no home runs in their three losses.

The Yankees, in theory, will not have the same problem this October. They lead the majors in home runs, and Teixeira has led the way.

He entered Monday’s game against the Angels with 37 homers, two ahead of Boston’s Jason Bay and two behind Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena for the American League lead. The number above him will not change; Pena broke two fingers when C. C. Sabathia hit them with a pitch on Sept. 7, and he is out for the season.

Besides ranking second in homers, Teixeira leads the league in runs batted in (118), total bases (326) and extra-base hits (82). He came into the Yankees’ series against the Angels on a tear, with 16 hits in his previous 33 at-bats to raise his average to .292.

His all-around contributions to the Yankees, who have the majors’ best record (95-55 through Sunday), would make Teixeira a strong candidate for the Most Valuable Player award in most seasons. Predictably, his teammates endorse him.

“Just the runs he saves on defense, making every play over there at first base, just that alone deserves votes for M.V.P.,” Sabathia said Saturday in Seattle. “You look at all he does on defense, never mind the 37 homers and leading the league in R.B.I.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 31 players have led their league in homers, runs batted in, total bases and extra-base hits since the modern M.V.P. was first presented in 1931. Nineteen of those players have won the award, most recently Ken Griffey Jr. of theSeattle Mariners in 1997.

The reality, though, is Teixeira has almost no chance of winning. Minnesota Twinscatcher Joe Mauer leads the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, while playing a position with fewer elite hitters. With Mauer’s team back in contention, there is no weakness in his candidacy.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it,” Mauer said Sunday. “But it’s not something I try to pay too much attention to. I’m more concerned about winning ballgames and getting back to the postseason.”

Teixeira may not win the M.V.P., but he has done everything the Yankees wanted when they signed him last winter after splurging on Sabathia and A. J. Burnett. While Burnett has had an uneven season, Teixeira and Sabathia have delivered.

“We’re extremely pleased with what those guys have done this year,” Manager Joe Girardisaid. “They’ve basically had the years we knew that they were capable of having. Their years are pretty normal. C. C.’s got a chance to win 20, Tex has got a chance to win the M.V.P., a chance to drive in maybe 125, 130 runs. These guys have done everything we could have expected.”

Like his teammate Derek Jeter, another player who could finish near the top of many ballots, Teixeira said he was especially proud of his consistency. His batting average, on-base percentage (.383) and slugging percentage (.571) are close to his career averages of .290, .378 and .545.

“For me it’s just being consistent,” Teixeira said. “That’s what I’ve been proudest of in my career; I’ve been consistent. You look at my career averages, and I’m a little bit above or a little bit below in every category every year of my career. Yeah, fluctuations happen. But I came in here with the same mind-set that I’ve had every single year and had the same kind of season.”

His career high in home runs is 43, set with the Texas Rangers in 2005, when he ranked fourth in the league behind three players who have been connected to steroid use: David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez.

There are no active players ahead of him now, but Teixeira would be happiest if his homers made a difference in the playoffs. Winning his first home run title is not a priority.

“It’s way down the list,” Teixeira said.

Pat Borzi contributed reporting from Minneapolis.

~The New York Times~

Advertisements