For Mark Teixeira, it was a premeditated strike.
All throughout the American League Division Series, the Baltimore Orioles didn't bother to hold Teixeira at first base. They had good reason. The Yankees first baseman has never been fast on his feet, and a calf injury that sidelined him in September didn't help. They figured he wasn't going anywhere.
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They figured wrong.
In the Yankees' 3-1 victory in Game 5 Friday night, Teixeira chose the perfect moment to steal second base, positioning himself to score when Raul Ibañez delivered an RBI single. The hit pushed across the first run on a night in which they once again appeared to be scarce.
"We didn't have anything going,'' said Teixeira, who has only 21 stolen bases in his 10 big-league seasons. "I knew I had to get into scoring position to try to spark the team a little bit and it worked out for us.''
With a trip to the American League Championship Series hanging in the balance, neither the Orioles nor Yankees managed a hit until the fourth inning, continuing a series-long trend. So when Teixeira singled to start the fifth, he knew the time had come.
Earlier in the series, in conversations with manager Joe Girardi and the coaching staff, Teixeira noted that the Orioles hadn't held him on. It was a situation he hoped to exploit when the time was right. With Ibañez up, and the Yankees' slumping offense in position to rally, the opportunity presented itself.
"I could have easily been a goat,'' Teixeira said. "If I blow out there and get thrown out . . . [Matt] Wieters is a good catcher, then I'm a goat and everyone's booing me. But hey, you've got to take chances because like I said, we needed to get something going.''
Indeed, had Teixeira attempted the steal earlier in the series, his tender calf might have kept him from reaching second base safely. Instead, he caught the Orioles off guard. Once he reached first base, Teixeira glanced at first-base coach Mick Kelleher. He didn't need words. Teixeira knew the moment had come to "take a chance.''
Orioles starter Jason Hammel helped by throwing a curveball, giving Teixeira an extra split-second to hit the bag. He clearly was safe.
"If it is a fastball, he's probably out,'' Girardi said. "But he picked the right pitch. And you talk about trusting your players and their instincts. And he trusted them and he was right.''
From home plate, Ibañez knew what had to come next. His single put the Yankees ahead 1-0, and with runs so scarce, that single run proved pivotal. The Yankees tacked on two runs, never relinquishing the lead, on the way toward punching a ticket for the ALCS against the Tigers.
"I got fired up that Tex actually stole that bag,'' Ibañez said. "It surprised me. It surprised everybody. But it was a huge stolen base for us and a huge base hit, too, leading off the inning.''