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Damon has vague memory of collision

NEW YORK -- He is better, much better. He'll remember, for instance, jogging out to the third base line last night when he was introduced with the rest of the Red Sox before Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, and how George Steinbrenner's favorite bald eagle, Challenger, was spooked when two jets thundered overhead causing the bird to take a dive that narrowly missed Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

But Johnny Damon is not sufficiently recovered from the Grade 2 concussion he received in a head-knocking collision with second baseman Damian Jackson Monday night in Oakland, Calif., to resume playing. Sox manager Grady Little said he hoped Damon might return for Game 3 in Boston Saturday, but even that is uncertain. Last night, Gabe Kapler started in his place in center field.

Damon was in the visitors' clubhouse before the game yesterday, chatting with teammates.

"He has a black eye," Kapler said, "but it looked like he was in good spirits."

Jackson, who sustained a cut near his right cheekbone in the collision, said he was relieved after speaking with Damon.

"Absolutely," Jackson said. "He said he's doing great. I was happy to see him. For what happened, I thought he looked good. He said he might try to take BP and if that's OK, he may try to play when we go home."

Damon told a pool interview that he remembered little from the collision, which happened in the seventh inning on a pop fly to shallow center by Jermaine Dye of the A's. The ball had just landed in the outstretched pocket of Jackson's glove when Damon, racing in from his position and calling for the ball all the way, arrived at the same spot, the right side of his head cracking violently against the right side of Jackson's face. Both players lay prone as the ball fell loose.

"I'm starting to recollect the fly ball coming down and getting in position to catch the ball and -- poof -- not remembering anything," Damon said. "I do remember waving my hands out to the crowd but at the moment, I actually thought I was walking off the field and waving my hands and saying `bye' to the Oakland fans, like I did before my last postseason game when I was with Oakland."

That was two seasons ago.

"But I thought I was on my feet," Damon said. "I didn't realize I was on a stretcher.

"I feel OK. I feel a little weak. I know that if I went out and shook my head up and jarred my head, I wouldn't feel 100 percent. So I got a whole lot of sleep last night -- 14 hours -- and then caught the bus here to the stadium. Hopefully I'll get another good night's rest like that and be ready to take part in some drills tomorrow.

"My vision is clear. I do have some puffiness that makes the eye a little tougher to see out of, but I think that's going to be gone, hopefully, by tomorrow or the next day."

Damon was taken to Boston to see a neurologist in a private plane -- a Gulfstream G-4 -- that belonged to Phil Morse, one of the team's major investors, who had a plane in the Los Angeles area and had it brought up for Damon after CEO Larry Lucchino asked him if it might be available. "I was happy to be in a position to help out," said Morse, a native of Salem who grew up in Danvers, played baseball at Maine, made his fortune in the medical supply business.

Damon said he remembered calling for the ball, and not recalling whether he heard Jackson.

"I don't think I lost feeling or movement," he said. "I just lost my head -- everything I was ever thinking about, it was gone. I had no idea if I caught the ball. I had no idea if we won the game. I thought I remembered [Jason] Varitek's home run --I do not remember Manny's [Ramirez] home run."

Damon has watched replays and was surprised at how far into the outfield Jackson had sprinted. He never braced for a collision, because he never thought there would be one. "I didn't think bracing was something I had to do," he said. "Things like this happen and hopefully it doesn't hurt us."

He recalled asking who caught the ball and who hit him. "Everything I was saying was kind of bogus," he said. "Over and over, he said, he asked the same question, and the answer was always the same -- Jackson.

" `Well, that little rat hit me?' " Damon said he remembered saying. " `That's not right. I should have knocked him out.' Then I kept going back to who hit me."

Yankees manager Joe Torre expected the Sox to miss Damon.

"Well, like everybody else, I'm happy that he's OK," Torre said. "But he's a pain in the neck when he's in that lineup, because he's such an unusual leadoff hitter. He's not one of those guys who bunts, although he can bunt and does bunt. He hits home runs. He'll take a two-strike pitch and hit it inside the bag [at third] or inside the bag at first. He's tough on defense.

"They have been a very resilient club all year . . . but you certainly have to believe they'll miss Johnny Damon. Hopefully, it's enough to give us an advantage."

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