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Damon lets his hair down vs. Yanks10/21/2004 1:52 AM ET
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Johnny came marching home again.
Johnny Damon, missing in action for the first six games of the American League Championship Series, found his way back Wednesday night.
How did he launch such a hard charge -- driving in six runs with two homers -- after being so dreadful for most of this series?
"Because I'm a good player and good players step up," Damon said. "This team had a lot of faith in me and that's exactly why we came back for a sweep."
The long-haired, bearded maverick hit a grand slam in the second inning that propelled the Red Sox into a 6-0 lead in Game 7 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium. That wasn't enough for the returning hero. Damon also crushed a two-run homer into the upper-deck in right field to make it an 8-1 game in the fourth.
"Very sweet," he said. "We needed those. You can never be satisfied with being a couple runs up on the Yankees. It was a big one for us."
The Red Sox loaded the bases in the second against right-hander Kevin Brown as Kevin Millar singled while Bill Mueller and Orlando Cabrera each walked. Yankees manager Joe Torre immediately popped out of the dugout and waved for reliever Javier Vazquez.
Vazquez threw a fastball and Damon yanked it into the right-field seats.
You could have heard a pinstripe drop.
"I was very happy. We needed a six-run lead because that's a tough Yankee ballclub and they're able to come back on you," Damon said.
Red Sox closer Keith Foulke was hardly surprised by the center fielder's outburst.
"He's a clutch hitter. I can't say enough about him. He's incredible," Foulke said. "We know that he's been there all year. He's been a solid rock for us."
Damon certainly rocked the Yankees in what became a 10-3 rout.
He jump-started the Red Sox two-run first inning with a leadoff single to left field and stole second base. He was thrown out at the plate trying to score on Manny Ramirez's single.
However, David Ortiz hit Brown's next pitch to right field for a two-run homer, his third of the series.
Damon's second homer was a boomer into the upper-deck off Vazquez after Cabrera walked. He also took Vazquez deep twice June 29 at Yankee Stadium, but that was a Red Sox loss.
Damon had struggled throughout the ALCS, entering Game 7 with just three hits in 29 at-bats (.103). He had that many hits in his first three at-bats in this game.
"He wasn't very successful the first part of the series," reliever Curtis Leskanic said. "He was like off and on but not so much on. He was really off. And tonight, what he did was just basically awesome. He set the tone right away."
Manager Terry Francona noted the Red Sox tried to keep Damon upbeat during his slump.
"He's got to be in the top handful of guys when you're a leadoff hitter and you've got 94 RBIs and 20 home runs and all year leading the league in runs -- that's a special year," Francona said.
"He's a good, good player. We just tried to remind him of that."
The leader of the Red Sox renegades, both in the lineup and in the clubhouse, had regained his on-field command.
"We never doubted ourselves and we stayed nice and relaxed and that's exactly why we did come back," Damon said.
"We had faith in every single person on this team and that's why we're going on the World Series."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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