As Mark Teixeira belted his eventual game-winning solo home run in the top of the 11th inning off Anaheim's Justin Speier in Sunday's 5-4 win, something struck me which I found quite unnerving: I could muster virtually no emotion over it.
Normally, a dramatic extra innings home run that gives Texas the lead, or even a walkoff win, will send me into a frenzy. But as I listened to Eric Nadel's call of Teixeira's blast, I quite literally couldn't get excited about it. At first, I thought perhaps it was because I was having to listen to the radio broadcast instead of watching it on TV, thanks to Suddenlink Cable blacking out the game in Tyler, but that wasn't it.
The real answer is what disturbs me so much: Mark Teixeira is dead to me. I can't forget Teixeira's comments to the media last week, in which he was more than happy to rip club ownership and management, and not-so-subtly hinted that he didn't want to be a part of the Rangers organization anymore.
Some of his remarks were more than accurate, particularly those concerning Tom Hicks, but his refusal to take any responsibility for the club's poor start has really gotten under my skin, and quite possibly some of his teammates, as well. And while the Rangers' hot streak during Teixeira's absence was fueled more by the turnaround of the starting pitching than anything else, there's no denying the fact that they went 16-11 while he was gone, and 23-41 otherwise.
Part of this seems inherently bizarre, because normally, the incapacitation of a great player is going to hurt his club significantly. And heck, let's face it: Mark Teixeira is a great player. His batting line for the year is at .303/.406/.568 in 234 AB, and his adjusted EQA of .319 is tied with Vladimir Guerrero for 7th in the AL this year. Throw in his above average defense at first base, and you have a guy who can be considered a legitimate superstar.
But instead, the Rangers' resurgence began virtually the same day he went on the disabled list, which was on the memorable date of June 9th. Like I said, this hot streak began with the revival of the starting rotation, particularly Kameron Loe and Kevin Millwood. You wouldn't think there'd be any kind of correlation between Teixeira's injury and the pitching improving, but hey, you never know.
What it all really comes down to is this: if Marlon Byrd, or Michael Young, or even Brad Wilkerson had hit that game-winning home run, I would have been ecstatic. But all I could manage after Teixeira's blast was a weak "Yeah!" Even Eric Nadel, who usually goes berzerk over a big moment like that, didn't seem as overly enthusiastic as usual.
And I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit scared in the days leading up to Teixeira's return. For one thing, I was concerned that Tex, gone for over a month and having played only one rehab game, would be rusty at the plate and in the field. A poor start following the All-Star break could have put a rather large dent in his trade value as the July 31st deadline approaches - then again, there's a lot of uncertainty as to how big the trade market is for Teixeira, anyway.
But there was one other thing that kept gnawing at the back of my skull, a question that I couldn't seem to shake off:
What if this team goes back into the toilet when Teixeira returns?
Traditional baseball logic would call this line of thought several less than flattering words, such as "idiotic." After all, the return of a great player from an injury, regardless of the sport, is typically going to help you win more games. And on the surface, it's silly to blame the shoddy play of an entire team on a single, highly productive player. Then again, these aren't your normal, everyday circumstances.
But with the exception of Kevin Millwood's brilliant performance on Friday night, the Rangers looked like that same hapless club from April and May during the first two games of this weekend series, committing three sloppy errors in Saturday's 9-4 loss.
Even in Sunday's victory, it seemed like Texas was outplayed; they were probably lucky to win a single game. There are a lot of variables here that make it difficult to say whether or not Teixeira's absence actually helped this team, such as the limited sample size and the fact that Texas played 14 interleague games during his DL stint against the weaker NL.
And I hate to go down this clich�d baseball road, but you can't measure for the - *gulp* - intangibles that could have possibly come into play. I remember hearing at least once the line of thought that Teixeira's absence inspired the rest of the lineup to step up their game at the plate, since they could no longer rest on their laurels and let their big offensive star take care of things. A similiar idea was put forth when the Rangers won 89 games in 2004, a year after A-Rod's departure.
To put this theory to the test, I calculated the average number of runs per game that the Rangers scored with and without Teixeira in the lineup:
With Teixeira (23-41, 313 R) : 4.89 runs/game
Without Teixeira (16-11, 138 R): 5.11 runs/game
An improvement of around .22 runs per game during the 27-game stretch without Teixeira; not a whole lot, but more than negligible. After adjusting for league and park factors, they're probably about the same. Despite the limited sample size here, this does prove that the Rangers, and their offense, can survive without Teixeira.
And you can be certain that Jon Daniels is well aware of that knowledge with the trade deadline looming just two weeks away, as he tries to find a suitable package of players to deal for.
As for myself, I really wish I could shake off the feeling that Teixeira's dead to me. After all, he's an amazing baseball player, and I should feel privileged to have him on my favorite team in the world.
But I don't. Not anymore.