07/12/2003 10:45 PM ET
Damon lifts Red Sox past Tigers
RBI single in 11th leads Sox to hard-fought win
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
DETROIT -- The fiercest of competitors, Johnny Damon has spent the first half searching for a way to get on some semblance of a hot streak. Saturday night, Damon offered hope that the second half is going to be far more fruitful.
Demoted from his customary leadoff spot earlier in the week, Damon keyed the Red Sox to a gritty 4-2 victory over the Tigers.
With the runners at the corners and one out in the top of the 11th inning, he smashed an RBI single through a drawn-in infield and into center field, snapping a 2-2 tie.
The hit was Damon's third of the night, raising his average to .260 heading into the final game before the All-Star break.
Last year at this time, Damon was en route to his first All-Star Game. This time, he will use the three days to recharge his battery for what he is convinced is going to be a big second half for himself and his team.
"It feels great," Damon said. "I've been taking some pretty good BP and working extra hard to make sure I have the big second half that I know I'm going to have. It feels good. This was a big win. We've been winning a lot of close games. That's what we need to do when you want to get to the playoffs, you have to win the close games."
Jason Varitek gave the Sox a tad more breathing room, striking a sacrifice fly to deep center field.
Byung-Hyun Kim -- who has provided much-needed stability since becoming the closer on July 1 -- converted his fifth save in as many opportunities.
An 11-inning affair is hardly what the Sox had in mind after Trot Nixon clubbed a solo homer to snap a 1-1 tie in the eighth.
But for the fifth time this season, the Sox bullpen couldn't preserve a lead for ace Pedro Martinez, leaving the star pitcher with an unspectacular 6-2 record at the break.
This time, the victim was Alan Embree. The lefty mowed down the first two hitters quickly in the bottom of the eighth, but then was beaten to the bag on an infield hit by Warren Morris.
That was the start of trouble, as Morris stole second and reached third when Varitek's throw sailed into center field.
Carlos Pena tied it up for the Tigers with a clutch double off the wall in left.
Nobody felt worse than Embree.
"(Martinez has) pitched well all year," Embree said. "The guy is 6-2, he could be 12-2 right now. It seems like there's one guy a year (who gets snakebit), and unfortunately it's the best pitcher in the league this year. Petey is looking better every time out there. The only consolation is that we did win."
The Sox can thank Todd Jones for that. The Tigers were 90 feet away from winning this game when a line drive by Andres Torres turned into a triple, as Nixon lost the ball in the lights. With one out, all the Tigers needed was a slow roller or a sacrifice fly and they were on their way to victory.
But Jones -- the ex-Tigers closer -- wouldn't stand for that. He heroically got the Sox back into the dugout,
whiffing Morris and Kevin Witt.
Not bad for a guy who was released by the Rockies in late June.
"I haven't been contributing in so long and to pitch meaningful games for Boston is great," Jones said. "I've been a closer too. I've been in tough situations before. You just have to concentrate and make your pitches."
With the topsy-turvy victory, the 55-37 Sox increased their winning streak to five games and moved within one game of the Yankees in the AL East.
"I've seen it. It happens. A lot of times once it starts happening to a pitcher it lasts the whole season," Sox manager Grady Little said. "Hopefully we can do something a little bit differently after this All-Star break to make it a little bit easier on the kid."
For Little, it wasn't that tough a decision to lift Martinez after his 105-pitch effort.
"He was pretty well cooked after the seventh inning," Little said.
The Tigers best swing of the night off Martinez came right out of the gate, as Alex Sanchez led off the bottom of the first with a triple to center field. But Sanchez never left third, as Martinez struck out Morris and Pena, then induced Witt into an inning-ending flyout.
As improbable as it seemed, Tigers starter Matt Roney
matched zeroes with Martinez over the first four innings.
But in the fifth, Damon -- who was hitting in the eight hole -- broke the scoreless tie and put the Sox in front with a solo homer to right.
"Damon had a good day," Little said. "He got that ball out of the park in the fifth inning that got us on the board and we weren't able to get much going there offensively throughout the ballgame. Any runs we got tonight were big and that was the first one."
On this night, the Tigers proved to be resilient. Matt Walbeck led off the sixth with a double over Kevin Millar's head in left field. The Tigers used textbook baseball to tie up the game. Torres laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Sanchez followed with a sacrifice fly to center.
Roney exited after 6 2/3 innings, allowing four hits and one run while striking out seven.
The Sox finally pushed in front in the top of the eighth, as Nixon belted a solo homer to right off Tigers lefty Jamie Walker. While many hitters lament the spacious hitting confines of Comerica Park, Nixon treats it like his backyard.
The blast, which looked like a game-winner at the time, was the 14th Nixon has hit against the Tigers, the most he's hit against any opponent. It was his seventh at Comerica Park, which opened in 2000.
But it was another left-handed hitter who ended up winning the game for the Sox.
As always, Damon was more enthused by the 'W' than his
"I'm really not too concerned with the way (the first half) went," Damon said. "We won a lot of games and I helped us win a lot of games. That's what's important, winning games. Batting average? Big deal. But scoring runs and driving in runs, that's the team game."
Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not
subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its