Thursday, May 29, 2008

In support of Johnny

My favorite moment of last night's much-needed win over the Orioles also began as one of the contest's more mundane.

With the Yankees nursing a one-run lead and a potentially valuable insurance run leading off third base with two outs in the ninth, Johnny Damon pulled what looked to be a routine grounder to O's first baseman Kevin Millar. Or so it seemed. The follow-through of Jamie Walker's pitching motion took the left-hander to the third-base side of the mound, and by the time he righted himself and sprinted to take Millar's toss to the bag it was far too late. Damon had busted it out of the box and earned himself an RBI single.

Mariano kept the run as nothing more than insurance with another flawless ninth, but Damon's hustle was not overlooked ... at least around these parts.

It's easy for some to write Damon off as another Yankees free-agent signing bust of the 2000s. One of the most memorable faces of the 2003-2004 Red Sox teams, Damon bolted Boston for a four-year, $52 million contract with New York that Sox GM Theo Epstein was unwilling to lavish on a then 32-year-old center fielder.

Based on performance, Epstein seemed to make the right decision. Despite steady offensive production (24 homers, 25 steals, 115 runs) during his first season in pinstripes, Damon battled nagging injuries that brought into question his longterm durability. Damon admittedly came into camp in 2007 out of shape and proceeded to suffer through a dreadful first half at the plate. Mid-way through the season he was supplanted in center field by the younger, quicker and stronger-armed Melky Cabrera.

But despite this, Damon has never been a blight on the Yankees roster the way other free-agent busts (Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano et al) have been. On the contrary, his arrival brought a more light-hearted feel to a Yankees team that had fostered an increasingly "corporate" feel by the middle of the decade. His personality seems to rub off on his teammates, making him valuable in ways not calculated through statistics. And while he's not the same player he was during his Boston heyday, he remains a steady and durable leadoff man while providing good range -- if not arm strength -- in left field.

So good work by Johnny Damon last night in Baltimore. I for one am glad to have this "idiot" on my team.

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