Lost among all the highlights, Mark Teixeira has pick of the litter
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BALTIMORE -- Mark Teixeira called the play the one he was "most proud of" from Game 1 of the ALDS.
And it wasn't his long RBI single in the fourth inning that tied the score at 2 Sunday night.
The play Teixeira liked occurred an inning later, in the field.
With the score tied at 2, Chris Davis led off the fifth with a single and Lew Ford followed with a dribbler in front of the plate. Catcher Russell Martin made a nice play coming out of his crouch to get to the ball and pick it up cleanly. A bit off-balance because he had to hurry, Martin threw the ball into the ground before falling flat on his face, but four-time Gold Glover Teixeira scooped the in-between hop out of the dirt to nip Ford by inches.
"Huge,'' CC Sabathia said of the work by Martin and Teixeira on the play. "I had already conceded that that was going to be a hit, and for him to make that play was great. I mean, Tex with the pick at the end was even better."
Teixeira's scoop was a product of work with first-base coach Mick Kelleher that began in spring training.
"You can ask Mick; we always work on the pick plays because that's really my job," Teixeira said. "You want to be able to pick up your teammates."
Kelleher said it's part of the "daily routine" he does with first basemen as soon as position players report in February.
"He hasn't had that many opportunities to pick balls this year, for whatever reason, because our infielders make pretty good throws," Kelleher said before the Yankees took batting practice Monday night. "I told him when he came in, 'That was a fabulous play.' Russ made a great play and Tex . . . It was a two-ended play from both players. And it was a critical play in that ballgame."
And it was one that Kelleher -- and Sabathia, for that matter -- thought might have been the most important one.
If the throw had gotten past Teixeira, the inning would have taken on a whole different look; the Orioles would have had runners at second and third with none out. Instead, after Ford was thrown out, Robert Andino's single put runners on first and third with one out, but Sabathia struck out Nate McLouth and got J.J. Hardy to hit into a forceout to preserve the 2-2 tie.
"Let's say that ball does something funny, kicks away 10 or 15 feet," Kelleher said. "It just changes everything, a play like that. A defensive play like that is just as big as an offensive play. You never know when you're going to get certain plays, but you try and prepare."
Then Kelleher smiled.
Although it's true that he works extensively with Teixeira on picking low throws -- hitting balls in the dirt with the fungo bat from every infield position -- the one angle they don't practice at all is from the catcher.
"We don't work on that," Kelleher said. "I don't take my fungo down there and hit him balls from that angle. We always work with the outer infielders, not from a catcher coming out, throwing off-balance and spiking a ball in.
"That was just a tremendous play by Russ and Tex, and when you analyze it later, if that play hadn't been made, who knows what would have happened that inning? It was the key play, and kind of went unnoticed in the scheme of things."
"Off the bat, it just kept getting away from me further and further," he said. "I just tried to get there in a hurry and the ball was actually pretty wet, so I picked it up and threw it as quickly as possible. Teixeira made a sweet pick like he always does, it seems, at first base over there. It definitely was a big play. It changed that inning."
And although the play was somewhat under the radar, perhaps the game, too.