Teixeira stays low-key, but he’s a high-impact player
With all the hype surrounding the deal that brought the dreadlocked one to Southern California you may have forgotten that just before the trade deadline the Angels of Orange County made their own blockbuster move. Off went homegrown first baseman Casey Kotchman to Atlanta in exchange for Mark Teixeira, possessor of the powerful bat they’ve long coveted.
Thought you might.
Funny how things work around here. It’s the Dodgers’ deal for Manny Ramirez that has gotten all the buzz, partly because No. 99 is proving just how fun it is to watch Hall of Fame greatness, partly because Ramirez’s flaky nature has a way of drawing the eyes, and partly because, well, they’re the Dodgers.
Meantime, down in Anaheim, far from the Hollywood limelight and the sizzling sparks of Manny mania, it’s the move for Teixeira that stands a better chance of altering the Southland baseball landscape.
The Dodgers, even with Manny playing like he’s from the planet Krypton, are a better team, but still struggling to keep their heads above water. They might not even make the playoffs.
The Angels? Their 11-4 win over the New York Yankees on Saturday moves them to 73-43, the best record in baseball. And now, with a new addition and a surefire confidence, they’re primed for a burst to the finish line. Teixeira’s hot bat, good glove and solid presence stand a good chance of helping bring a second World Series title to Disneyland.
So far, the burly first baseman has played 10 games as an Angel. In that time he’s batting .316 with two doubles, eight runs batted in, and, after a solo shot Saturday, two homers. Add eight walks and Teixeira has an on-base percentage of .435 -- 111 percentage points higher than Dodgers occasional leadoff man Juan Pierre.
But there’s more to Teixeira’s impact than sheer numbers. Unlike the way Manny Ramirez immediately sent an electric buzz coursing through his team, a jolt that woke up the Dodgers, Teixeira has worked his way onto his new team in a stealthy, seamless fashion.
You saw this all week in Anaheim. On Monday, when Teixeira walked to the plate for the first time in front of the home fans, there was the expected euphoria. But after the first game -- in the clubhouse, on the field and in the stands -- it was as if the 6-foot-3 first baseman had been an Angel all along.
When he stood in the batters box Wednesday night, hands and bat at shoulder height with a little waggle you’ll soon grow familiar with, he promptly hit a scorching double, a hit that was greeted by nothing more than warm applause. In the stands, it was simply business as usual. Walking among the fans during that game I heard no Teixeira sing-song chants, saw no Teixeira signs. (Nothing could have been further from the madcap scene I’d witnessed at Chavez Ravine last week, where Manny was treated like a dreadlocked deity.)
It was more of the same in the Angels clubhouse: business as usual. Torii Hunter noted that when Teixeira came to the team, the Angels cautiously observed their new slugger, unsure how he’d fit in. “We watched him come up to Vladdy and shake Vladdy’s hand and introduce himself,” Hunter said. “It was like, ‘OK, he’s open and confident, he’s not going to sit on the sidelines or separate himself from us.’ Then we saw how he was in games. He’s sitting next to me and we’re talking about pitchers and tendencies. It’s like, ‘OK, this guy is a baseball player. All business. Loves the game.’ This guy is perfect for this team.”
Watch Teixeira at-bat and you’ll get a glimpse into what Hunter means. The Maryland native has never hit fewer than 26 home runs in a full season, a fact that led Baltimore this week to do something nobody can remember happening: The Orioles walked Teixeira to get to Vladimir Guerrero.
Moreover, like Manny Ramirez, Teixeira’s game is one of patience and selectivity. An at-bat Friday night against the Yankees was typical. Teixeira worked pitcher Ian Kennedy into a 3-and-2 count. He fouled off an 89-mph fastball. Then fouled off another. Kennedy threw a fourth fastball, only this time Teixeira belted it for a double.
“Look, as much as the power he brings, it’s the discipline that’s just as impressive,” said Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher of his new, 28-year-old charge. “He’s not going to swing at something he doesn’t like. He’s going to be patient. For our team, for the fans, it’s an approach that is great to watch.”
Remember all of this when you’re watching everyone going gaga over No. 99 in Dodgers blue.
The Dodgers were desperate for Manny, and thankfully they got him. If Manny doesn’t come, for the rest of this season there’s no excitement, no mania, and probably no playoffs in Chavez Ravine. Manny was a must have.
Things are a bit different down in Anaheim, where flash and sizzle take a back seat to well-honed proficiency and consistent winning. Teixeira was a nice addition.
“This place is everything I’d thought it was when I was playing for other teams and watching them,” the slugger said before Friday night’s game, a big smile on his face. “Great pitching. Great defense. They run the bases well. Just a group of solid professionals. . . . And I’m just here to help.”
Kurt Streeter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Streeter, go to latimes.com/streeter.