Detroit's Johnny Damon, right, laughs after getting a pie in...

Detroit's Johnny Damon, right, laughs after getting a pie in the face from Gerald Laird following his walkoff home run in the ninth inning to defeat the Los Angeles Angels. (May 1, 2010) Credit: AP

BOSTON - At some point during the next four days, Mariano Rivera might be called upon to protect a lead against the Detroit Tigers, whom the Yankees visit starting tonight.

He might look into the batter's box and see a familiar face: the one that belongs to Johnny Damon.

"He's wearing a Detroit Tigers uniform,'' Rivera said yesterday. "He's on the opposing team. I'm sure that he's going to come hard at us and we're going to do the same. Doesn't mean you don't care about the guy and wish him the best.''

The Yankees will get the chance to wish Damon the best in person tonight. But he won't be getting his World Series ring. Rather than wait until the teams first met, Damon asked the Yankees to mail it to him last month, and they complied.

Rivera said he "doesn't emphasize it'' when he faces former teammates. He pitched to Hideki Matsui last month and was able to put their seven seasons together aside.

"I've faced Jason Giambi,'' he said. "Matsui. Bobby Abreu. I know they were my teammates, but now they are wearing a different uniform. I'm sure they feel the same way.''

Damon is batting .294 with one home run and 14 RBIs after going 0-for-3 with two walks and two runs scored in the Tigers' 7-4 loss to the Indians yesterday.

Nick Johnson, the man who essentially replaced Damon in the Yankees' lineup, is on the disabled list with a wrist problem and was hitting .167 before he got hurt. But don't expect Damon to gloat; he has consistently taken the high road since the Yankees closed the door on his return as a free agent.

Damon signed with Detroit for one year and $8 million after the Yankees found his early contract demands too unappetizing and signed Johnson for the DH spot. It ended a four-year relationship that culminated in last year's World Series parade.

Some of the Yankees saw Damon in spring training.

"I think it's always good to see guys you played with and guys you managed,'' Joe Girardi said. "It'll be good to see Johnny. I'm sure there'll be some laughs tomorrow.''

More Yankees headlines