When Johnny Damon approaches the plate in his first at-bat against Javier Vazquez Monday night,, fans will be reminded of pleasant and visceral memories.
Oct. 20, 2004, Game 7 of the AL Championship Series was a day that will live in sports infamy, a collapse of historic proportions.
Down 3-0 in the ALCS, the Red Sox climbed back to tie the series 3-3 and were up 2-0 when Damon strode to the plate in the second. The Red Sox loaded the bases against starter Kevin Brown, calling for a pitching change. Then-manager Joe Torre brought in Vazquez.
Damon hit Vazquez''s first pitch into the rightfield seats for a grand slam.. Damon, who added an upper-deck, two-run blast in the fourth, had three hits in the game, He had only three hits in the previous six games..
The Red Sox won the game, 10-3, and then the World Series to end the 86-year curse.
Despite being a champion of the “Idiots” and a linchpin of the Red Sox's unprecedented comeback, Damon put on the pinstripes and contributed to a new age of Yankee glory when he signed with New York in 2005.
With Game 4 of last year’s World Series against the Phillies tied 4-4, Brad Lidge began the ninth and gave up a two-out single to Damon—after a nine-pitch at bat. Then, with Mark Teixeira batting, Damon stole second and, on the same play, advanced to third as the base was uncovered because of a defensive shift against Teixeira.
Some believed that Damon's play made Lidge avoid throwing his best pitch—a slider with sharp downward movement—for the rest of the inning, as it risked a wild pitch that would have allowed Damon to score. Teixeira was then hit by a pitch and Alex Rodriguez put the Yankees ahead with a double, scoring Damon. Jorge Posada added to that lead with a single that scored Teixeira and Rodriguez. Mariano Rivera entered in the bottom of the ninth and saved the 10-7 win.
The Yankees let Damon go this offseason after contract disputes and Damon eventually signed for $8 million with the Tigers.
Damon likely will receive cheers from the belly of Yankee Stadium Monday nightt, if not for his crucial play in last year’s World Series, than for his absence from the team this season.
The Yankees let Damon and Hideki Matsui walk in favor of trading for Curtis Granderson and signing Nick Johnson. Damon has had a decent year - batting .278 with 65 runs scored_ but his vibrant personality and sure threat from the DH position in the batting order have been missed.
The Yankees have fared well without Damon, but both parties missed out on a building a formidable legacy.
For Damon, he passed on New York and took the buck for a team in a rebuilding year. With no postseason in sight and a fan-base looking to next season, Damon has a mere fraction of the reverence he’d receive in the Bronx.
For the Yankees, was it really worth it to spend $2 million on Randy Winn and $5.75 million on Johnson, when they could have brought Damon back for a few million more? A few million, by the way, they ended up spending on Lance Berkman for the rest of this season.
Although it is unlikely there will be a roll-call for Damon Monday night when he trots out to an outfield he recently roamed, he should receive a warm ovation. Some cheers can cement a relationship that should have never been broken.