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Damon, wall don't mesh well

Johnny Damon's right cheek looked red, with a contusion. His right eye was swollen, and only half-open, thanks to four stitches on his eyelid. His right knee throbbed a bit. A full-speed crash into the outfield wall will do that.

''I'd say he lost the fight," deemed Terry Francona.

Despite Damon's initial objections, he left last night's game in the middle of the third inning with what the club called scratches and contusions on his face. Damon, who smashed heads with Damian Jackson and sustained a concussion during Game 5 of the 2003 American League Division Series in Oakland, showed no signs of a concussion last night, the club said.

Damon ran into the railing of the triangle fence in center and bounced off it. His hat flew off, and, as he hit the ground, he reached for his head. Still, he said, he wasn't worried about a concussion.

''I knew it would have just been a minor one," he said. ''I kind of knew what was going on right away."

Damon completed the inning and was due to lead off the bottom. ''I gave Terry some resistance," he said.

That was until trainer Jim Rowe pulled down on Damon's eyelid to reveal the bleeding.

''We couldn't let him hit like that," Francona said. ''He gets [a pitch] up and in, he wouldn't see it. But he'll call me [this] morning and he'll have to be real sore to not play. He's tough. There were days last year he had no business playing and he did."

Without Damon, Jay Payton, who started in left field to give Manny Ramirez a night off, moved to center. Kevin Millar, who started at first base, moved to left, and John Olerud entered the game.

Damon, who is hitting .351, also had stitches earlier in the season after running into the plexiglass covering of the left-field video scoreboard in Toronto April 8. He needed six stitches in his left elbow.

''I plan to be back [today]," Damon said.

The one body part he'll need to check on, he said, is his right knee.

The outfield wall, according to reliever Mike Timlin, is largely padded, but there's a steel mesh that Damon's face appeared to smack.

''That wall didn't give," Timlin said. ''It's been there for years. I don't think he's going to knock it down. He was dazed pretty good."

Not the first time

Forget Olerud for a moment. The defining positional battle of Millar's career to date involved Derrek Lee, who entered last night's game leading the National League in home runs and RBIs and ranking second in average.

Lee is with the Cubs now, but he and Millar were teammates in Florida.

''D-Lee and I went through some good battles," Millar said. ''In '99 they sent him down for two weeks while they called me up to throw me in the fire."

Two weeks became 89 games that Lee spent in the Pacific Coast League.

''He said, 'Dude, they told me they were only going to send me down for two weeks, and I would be right back up because this Millar guy will fall on his face,' " said Millar.

Instead, Millar hit .285 with 9 homers and 67 RBIs in 105 games.

''In 2000," Millar said, ''I beat him out for the job Opening Day. That lasted a week. He eventually took it over. I rode the bench in 2000. In 2001, I played a lot of right field.

''We're great friends. We still talk. He's a great guy. He never got down. Never changed his demeanor."

Eligible receiver

Doug Mirabelli (sprained left wrist) is eligible to come off the disabled list Friday but will not. At the earliest he'll return Monday, when Tim Wakefield starts, Francona said . . . Catcher Shawn Wooten cleared waivers yesterday and will report to Triple A Pawtucket . . . Brian Roberts's leadoff single extended his hitting streak to 20 games . . . Curt Schilling was scheduled to undergo biomechanical tests yesterday to evaluate the strength of his right ankle . . . MLB released preliminary All-Star voting results, and the Sox are representing themselves well. If the game were tomorrow, Jason Varitek, Ramirez, and David Ortiz would be starting. Ortiz (680,834) has more votes than any other player in the AL. Varitek (425,878) leads Detroit's Ivan Rodriguez (365,533) among catchers. Ramirez, despite entering last night hitting .253, has more votes than any other outfielder with 553,959. He leads Vladimir Guerrero (542,541), Ichiro Suzuki (515,343), and Damon (415,882) . . . The Royals' hiring of Buddy Bell as manager delighted his good friend Francona. ''That's unbelievable," Francona said. ''That's great. He's the reason I got into coaching." Bell hired Francona as third base coach with the Tigers in 1996, giving Francona his first big-league job . . . Bronson Arroyo, guitar in hand, spent at least an hour and a half after last night's game doing an on-field photo shoot for his upcoming CD, ''Covering the Bases."

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