- The Washington Times - Friday, October 23, 2009

ANAHEIM, Calif. | There’s a reason Mark Teixeira commanded $180 million from the New York Yankees last winter and a reason the Washington Nationals were willing to go even higher than that in a failed attempt to land the free agent slugger.

Teixeira isn’t just a premier hitter. He’s a premier ballplayer in every aspect of the game, and he’s proving that this postseason.

Even though he entered Game 5 of the American League Championship Series struggling at the plate — with only two hits and no RBI against the Los Angeles Angels until his clutch, bases-clearing double in the seventh inning — Teixeira still was making a huge contribution at first base, pulling off several spectacular plays while also saving some of his teammates from throwing errors.

That stellar defensive play, long a hallmark of his game, has allowed Teixeira to feel like he’s playing a key role in the Yankees’ march toward the World Series even if he’s not doing it at the plate.

“All season long, I’ve always said that you can help your team out defensively every day,” he said. “Offensively, you can’t. That’s just the way it is. I think I’ve been hopefully helping out my infielders and pitchers this series.”

Teixeira is a two-time Gold Glove Award winner, and his smooth play in the field was a major selling point for the Nationals when they pursued the Maryland native last winter.

His stellar glove work this series (and this season) has not been lost on the rest of the Yankees.

“He’s made so many big plays, plays that have saved innings for us during the course of the year, plays that have saved games for us,” manager Joe Girardi said. “… His defense has been spectacular for us. I can’t say enough. Whether it’s been diving plays and throwing home, turning double plays, over-the-shoulder catches on pop-ups, to me he’s played Gold Glove defense.”

Strasburg rocked

Top Nationals pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg was roughed up Thursday in his second appearance in the Arizona Fall League, allowing eight runs (seven earned) and three home runs in a 2 2/3-inning start.

Pitching for the Phoenix Desert Dogs against the Peoria Javelinas, Strasburg consistently threw his fastball in the 96-99 mph range but had trouble keeping that pitch and his breaking ball down in the zone. Two of the three homers he allowed - including a grand slam by Peoria’s Casper Wells - came on breaking balls up in the strike zone.

The No. 1 pick in the June draft and recipient of a record $15.1 million contract fared much better in his AFL debut last week, tossing 3 1/3 scoreless innings against the Scottsdale Scorpions. He’s next scheduled to pitch Tuesday against the Surprise Rafters.

Umpire change

Stung by a rash of blown calls in the playoffs, Major League Baseball is breaking tradition and sticking with only experienced umpires for the World Series.

Longtime crew chiefs Joe West, Dana DeMuth and Gerry Davis, along with Brian Gorman, Jeff Nelson and Mike Everitt, will handle the games, three people with knowledge of the decision told the Associated Press this week.

The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because an official announcement has not been made.

In 24 of the last 25 World Series, the six-man crew has included at least one umpire working the event for the first time - baseball likes to reward newer umpires, plus replenish the supply of umps with Series experience.

In each of the last two years, there were three new umps working the World Series.

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