NEW YORK -- Hoisting the World Series championship trophy behind second base in the Bronx last week represented the ultimate team accomplishment for the Yankees. But on Tuesday, two Yankees were lauded for their individual defensive achievements.
Shortstop Derek Jeter and first baseman Mark Teixeira were named to the Rawlings American League Gold Glove team, taking home the awards for the fourth and third times in their Major League careers, respectively.
Jeter's Gold Glove is the first since the last of his three consecutive berths in 2006 and represents no small accomplishment for the 35-year-old, who rededicated himself to defensive improvement after turning a cold shoulder to some criticism in recent years.
"I've said it time and time again -- playing championship-caliber baseball starts with pitching and defense," Jeter said. "I think those two components were certainly the foundation for our success in 2009. I've always taken a great deal of pride in my defense, and being honored with a Gold Glove is an accomplishment I will never overlook."
Teixeira's first Gold Glove since 2006 was accredited to him for an aspect of his game that proved every bit as vital to the Yankees' drive to a World Series title as his AL-leading 39 home runs and 122 RBIs.
"Solid defense is the most underrated component of winning baseball, but it is something I have always taken pride in," Teixeira said. "Winning a third Gold Glove means a lot to me, especially when good defense helped our entire team reach the ultimate goal of a world championship."
Though he struggled at the plate in the postseason, hitting .180 with two homers and eight RBIs while the Bombers dismissed the Twins, Angels and Phillies, Teixeira said the saving grace was that he never allowed his defense to falter.
"I've always been cognizant of the fact that you're not going to get a hit every time up," Teixeira said. "You want to hit 1.000, but if you don't, you can't take it out to the field. One strikeout in a game is not going to be the game, but one big error with men on base in the eighth inning might be the difference between a win and a loss."
Making only four errors in 1,275 chances, Teixeira also saved numerous errors by other infielders with his wide-ranging scoops of errant throws. Adding Teixeira's Gold Glove defense to the mix created a ripple effect that helped Jeter as well as second baseman Robinson Cano and third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
"That guy has changed the whole infield," Cano said. "Before, I had to pay attention to my left, to my right. Now, when they have a pull hitter, I stay away from the line. He can cover the whole first-base side, and I can move toward the middle so Jeter can move over a little bit. He's not good, he's great."
In the opening act of an eight-year, $180 million contract, Teixeira posted a .997 fielding percentage in 2009. He ranks second among all active first basemen in career fielding percentage at .99625, fractionally behind former Yankee Doug Mientkiewicz (.99626).
"He's done this all season long for us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Diving plays -- he had a play early in the season where he dove to his right, threw from his knees to throw to home plate and save a run and save the game for us.
"He's a complete player, whether it's defensive, baserunning, offensive. Thinking, talking about the game, he's a complete player. And his defense has saved us a number of times this year."
For Jeter, the long hours in the gym obviously paid off. Committing just eight errors in 2009, his fewest in any full season of play, Jeter posted a .986 fielding percentage to match his highest all-time mark from 1998, pacing all AL shortstops.
"The difference is his hard work -- what he does in the winter, the way he takes care of himself," Girardi said. "He continues to work during the season, and he's been great. We've seen him make plays to the left, to the right, that have been great plays."
Derided in some circles for a perceived lack of defensive range, Jeter earned praise from many of those same stat-based analysts for his improvement, thanks in large part to a workout regimen focused on lateral movement. He targeted explosive movement, which also helped him on the basepaths.
"Whatever weaknesses we may see develop in our players, we talk to our players about it," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "We look for ways to attack it. He changed his workout routine to improve his lateral defense, and that took place before last year. He's been better the last two years."
Jeter's final Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), a metric formulated to calculate the number of runs above or below average a fielder saves, was 6.6, up from -0.5 in 2008 and a career-low -15.3 in 2007.
"He plays hard every day, every play," Girardi said. "He never takes a play off. He never takes a pitch off. Physically, you see him play beat up. You see him play sick. He's still the great leader of this club."
The Rawlings Gold Glove Award was established in 1957 as the greatest measure of fielding excellence. The award is presented annually to 18 players -- one for each position -- in both the American and National Leagues.
Winners are selected by Major League coaches and managers prior to the conclusion of the regular season. Managers and coaches may not vote for players from their own club and only vote for players in their own league.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.