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He's no idiot after all

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  November 2, 2009 01:05 AM

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Yes, Johnny Damon was a traitor to Red Sox Nation. To some, he'll always be a no-good rat. But, admit it, that was a pretty slick move he made to win the game for the Yankees tonight.

In case you're boycotting the World Series, here's a little recap:

Damon came to the plate with two out and nobody on with the score tied 4-4 in the top of the ninth inning. He saw nine pitches from Brad Lidge, softly lining the last one into left field for a single that kept the inning alive.

"He fouled off some pretty good sliders," Lidge said. "It was a good at-bat."

With Mark Teixeira up, the Phillies shifted their defense, moving shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the right of second base and playing third baseman Pedro Feliz as a shortstop. Damon took off on the first pitch.

The throw from catcher Carlos Ruiz bounced and Damon had the bag. But, to the shock of everybody watching, he popped up and kept going to third base.

Felix tried to chase him down to no avail as the Phillies yelled in vain for Lidge or catcher Carlos Ruiz to cover third base.

"Evidently there was some miscommunication there," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who pretty much was furious with the world after the game given the look in his eyes as he walked through the clubhouse.

Damon explained his thinking.

"What I had to see before I could start running to third base was how Pedro caught the ball," he said, noting that the throw pulled Feliz off he bag just enough. "I'm just glad that when I started running, I still had some of my young legs behind me."

Damon also was thinking that if he were on third base, it would take away Lidge's ability to throw his best pitch a slider in the dirt as that would risk a wild pitch.

"In that situation I was trying to be aggressive and trying to get in scoring position," Damon said. "It just worked out that way where there was a throw, the third baseman covered and the pitcher did not. So I kind of had to see all that stuff develop."

Lidge hit Mark Teixeira with the next pitch, setting up an out at first or second. But, as Damon hoped, Lidge threw fastballs to Alex Rodriguez and he lined the second one into left field for an RBI single. Rattled after the Damon Dash, Lidge then served up a two-run single by Jorge Posada.

What adds to the play is that Damon had only 12 steals all season, his fewest in a full season, and one in the postseason. He hit second in the order in 127 of the 133 games he started this season. With Teixeira and Rodriguez usually behind him, stolen bases were not a priority.

"That's instinct," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You'd better be sure, because you've got Tex and A-Rod up behind and you'd better be sure. I thought it was a great instinctual play."

Third base coach Rob Thomson has talked all season about the idea of taking extra bases against the shift and at one point, Derek Jeter considered trying to steal home as he was able to get far down the line without the third baseman covering. But Damon was the first to take advantage.

"It's a great play," Thomson said on his way out of Citizens Bank Park. "Really heads-up. It's not automatic he would have scored from second, either. Their outfielders all have pretty good arms."

Damon's daring gave the Yankees a three games to one lead in the Series. Nothing is impossible (see Damon and the Red Sox in 2004), but the Phillies are in serious trouble now. Cocky and confident after the NLCS and Game 1 of the Series, the Phillies are facing long odds now.

But all is not hunky and dory for the Yankees. Center fielder Melky Cabrera appears to have been felled by a strained hamstring. The only reliable set-up man in the postseason is the usually unreliable Damaso Marte. And Mariano Rivera had an ice bag strapped to his side after the game.

The Yankees are battered, a bit bruised and they're trying to win the title with only three starters. But thanks to Damon, they're in position to do so

Deep down, I think most Red Sox fans still like Johnny, if only just a little. If nothing else, you have to admire his hustle and how hard he plays. That has been the case regardless of what uniform he wears.

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