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Something’s happening in the Bronx

Tyler Kepner of the New York Times was in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees’ clubhouse recently and saw a sign posted with the title “Yankee Play Hard Index.” On it were seven rules for the farmhands to follow, all of which basically boil down to “hustle and work hard.” Mark Teixeira was never a Yankee farmhand, but based on his play in last night’s game against the Rangers, he appears to be living up to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre standard. This description, courtesy of ShysterBall reader, J.W.:

Nice little series of events in the bottom of the 4th of the Yankees--Rangers game, as Vicente Padilla plunks Mark Teixeira for the second time to load the bases. Teixeira jaws at him. A-Rod stepped to the plate looking to pick up his teammate, and did what A-Rod does best in situations in which he feels some kind of pressure to perform, he flailed and failed, chopping a hard(ish) hit grounder over towards what I believe was the second base side. The ball was fielded cleanly and slung over to second base in what looked to be a sure-thing double play. And yet, Teixeira dialed it up to a gear we may never see him reach again and went flying into second to break up the play. It was a cleaner break-up slide than you’ll often see; he even took the time to swipe the bag with his hand as if to say, “See, this was a legit slide!” It was a nice piece of aggressive play that didn’t hurt anyone and showed some of that competitive fire that is sometimes lacking in the great game of baseball.

A couple of things before I say what I’m going to say about this. First, I don’t believe that grit and determination and fire or any of that stuff outweighs baseball talent. You can have the latter without the former and still help a team win, but if you have the former without the latter, God help you.

Second: I don’t believe that the Yankees’ biggest problem of the past several years has been that they’ve brought in mercenaries who don’t understand “The Yankee Way” or somesuch nonsense. The problem has been a lack of depth -- which may be a byproduct of the free agency spree, but not a necessary one -- and the fact that a short playoff series can be a crapshoot. They didn’t get the job done over the long haul in 2008, but between 2001 and 2007 they could have just as easily won the World Series as they were eliminated, with only a few bounces and random hot streaks standing in the way. They haven’t been a perfect club over that time, but they haven’t been fatally-flawed either. Stuff happens.

All of that said, I think there really is something to note in Teixeira’s hard slide last night. A little of that intangible fire, sure, but also evidence that the most recent batch of free agents brought to town is a bit different than that which Brian Cashman has brought in before. More complete players in some important ways, both in terms of makeup and ability. Alex Rodriguez is an otherworldly talent, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him get angry like Tex apparently did and I can’t recall him really barelling into second like that to break up a double play. Jason Giambi could hit the cover off the ball in his day, but he was so limited defensively and on the basepaths that comparing him to Teixeira is a rather silly exercise.

Where does all of this lead? Probably to a place where we can honestly say that building through free agency, while not the most efficient thing to do, isn’t something that is going to necessarily keep the Yankees from winning another World Series title as so many adherents to those 1990s Yankees teams suggest. At the same time, however, it probably also forces us to conclude that the intangibles -- fire, grit, determination -- matter at least a little as well, if for no other reason than they often accompany a player with a good all-around game like Teixeira’s.

Whatever the case, it certainly feels like something different is happening in the Bronx this year. Something that hasn’t happened in a long time. Something that, just maybe, will give New York a better shot at navigating that postseason crapshoot than they have in nearly a decade.