Saturday evening in New York was supposed to be about a horse, a dream and sports history. Eighteen miles east of Belmont Park and a short drive over the Throgs Neck Bridge away, it was a 32-year-old who grew up just a few minutes from Pimlico who stole the show instead.
While I'll Have Another didn't race in the 111th Belmont Stakes, the war horse of Saturday evening was New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, who not only showed up, but made the most of his moment in the spotlight in Saturday's 4-2 win over the New York Mets.
Teixeira, who'd entered Saturday's Subway Series clash having gone 2-14 in the team's current homestand, took a sixth-inning Dillon Gee pitch deep for the game's deciding two-run home run.
The blast came just three days after the two-time All Star was diagnosed with nerve damage to his vocal cords, a somewhat satisfactory conclusion to what's been a lingering -- and frustrating -- bout with a persistent cough all season long.
"I've got better peace of mind now, knowing what's been going on and why I've been feeling terrible for the last two months," Teixeira said in the Yankees clubhouse after the game. "I'm glad we found out what was going on. The nerve damage is going to be there in the throat for a while, but at least I know what it is and we can treat it accordingly. I wasn't necessarily having sleepless nights, but it's not great when you don't know what's going on and you're not feeling well. The peace of mind is huge."
During a visit to New York-Presbyterian Hospital on Thursday morning, Teixeira's doctor suggested he take two weeks off and rest his vocal cords. "She said the same thing every other doctor said: 'Go take two weeks off.' That's not going to happen, but it's something I can manage with some medication."
A notoriously "slow starter," Teixeira's 2012 first half has been especially pedestrian, even for his somewhat low first-half standards. The curious coughing bout was only adding to his frustration. Batting just .249 on the year, Teixeira's clutch homer Saturday night serves as one of the few individual highlights from what's been a tiring first few months of the season. Above all, it helped the Yankees notch another victory, their fourth in their last five games.
"We're playing good baseball," Teixeira said. "You can always be better. That's the fact of the matter. But yeah, right now? We're on a nice little run."
Yankees starter Phil Hughes went 6 and 1/3 innings, surrendering six hits and just two earned runs, improving his record to 6-5 on the year. Hughes struck out six in the effort, marking his second straight strong outing.
Hughes insisted that the Teixeira blast shifted the momentum of the game and changed the mood in the Yankees dugout.
"It was huge. It was the turning point. We were down 2-1 and we were looking for the big hit to come around. He delivered. That was the big moment. Everyone was really fired up. Dillon Gee was pitching really well and we needed a big hit. Tex delivered."
"Against Gee, who had been pitching extremely well against us, it was one of those things where we were thinking if we'd be able to get something across," explained Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson. "Me being at third base, just 90 feet from scoring, I'm just hoping a ball gets past him so I can score a run that way. Sure enough, 'Tex' being 'Tex,' he was able to leave the ballpark and put us up by a run."
Teixeira's cough, though obviously a storyline in the media this week, hasn't been a cause for concern in the Yankees clubhouse. "'Tex' is a fighter," said Granderson. "The fact that he's in the lineup every night, that's important. When he's in the lineup, it means he's ready to play and ready to produce. And that's what he did tonight."
Upbeat and at ease, Teixeira packed his locker and gave a nod. "A lot more work to be done," he concluded.
The expected biggest star in a busy New York sports weekend was scratched from the lineup due to injury before the weekend even got started.
Another one -- a kid from Preakness Country -- stepped up and delivered the thrilling moment of the weekend in its place.