Overbay not underperforming

KANSAS CITY -- On this date one year ago, the New York Yankees' everyday first baseman was batting .212, with four home runs, 17 RBIs, an on-base percentage of .269 and an OPS of .634.

This season, the numbers for the Yankees' everyday first baseman include a batting average of .264, with six home runs, 20 RBIs, an on-base percentage of .302 and an OPS of .811.

The only difference is, last season the first baseman's name was Mark Teixeira, and this year it is Lyle Overbay -- which only goes to show that you do not always get what you pay for.

Overbay was signed to a minor-league deal on March 26, just three days before the Yankees were to break camp, and just hours after he had been cut by the Boston Red Sox. At the time, nothing was guaranteed; Overbay joked that he was on a three-day trial.

But now, 34 games into the season, this much is guaranteed: When James Shields, a right-hander, starts the second game of this weekend's three-game series against the Kansas City Royals on Saturday, Overbay will be in the lineup.

He will be in the lineup Sunday, too, when Ervin Santana takes the mound, and for at least one of the games of Monday's doubleheader, when righty Justin Masterson is scheduled to pitch.

And considering the way he lined a double off Bruce Chen, a lefty, in the sixth inning of Friday night's 11-6 Yankees victory, he might be in there no matter who starts the other game.

In a season that has been marked by the resurgence of castoffs such as Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki, both of whom are very handsomely compensated, there is no Yankee who has turned out to be a better value than Lyle Overbay. After the Yankees had determined Overbay had passed his audition, the two sides agreed on a $1.25 million deal -- or about what Teixeira makes for each of his bi-monthly paychecks.

In return, Overbay has given the Yankees at least as much as they normally get this time of year from the notoriously slow-starting Teixeira, and a lot more than he was giving them up to the same point last season.

Overbay, along with Wells, Suzuki and Travis Hafner, are among the biggest reasons why, in spite of a cascade of injuries to high-profile players, the Yankees have managed to compile a 21-13 record and currently sit atop the AL East, percentage points ahead of the Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles.

“It’s been a fun ride," Overbay said. "I’m just enjoying it. Three days before (being signed by the Yankees), I was going to be going home, so I didn’t want to try to do too much and put pressure on myself."

Overbay hit well enough over his three-day trial to earn a spot on the roster, and when it turned out Teixeira was going to be out longer than expected with a torn wrist tendon sheath, Overbay became an important part of the team. Now, with Kevin Youkilis -- who the Yankees were using at first base against left-handed starters -- out indefinitely with a lower back problem, Overbay goes from important to crucial.

“He’s been pretty consistent against the right-handers for us all year long," said manager Joe Girardi. Indeed, Overbay's numbers against righties are impressive: .324 with six homers and 15 RBIs.

But against lefties, the numbers are not so good: .095 with no homers and two RBIs.

"I blame Youkilis for that," Overbay said, laughing. "I'm being forced to hit against guys I shouldn't be hitting against."

But no one could get Overbay out on this night. He started off with a long two-run home run off starter Wade Davis in the second inning, and followed that with an RBI double, also off Davis, in the fourth. And when the Royals went to Chen to face Overbay in the sixth, he lined another RBI double. He finished up his night with an RBI single in the ninth off J.C. Gutierrez, another righty, to complete a 4-for-5, five-RBI night.

"I think the biggest thing for me is working with (hitting coach) Kevin Long every day," Overbay said. "He’s got me where I need to be, and if I’m not there, he’ll get me there. It’s kind of nice to be in that situation.”