10/05/2003 2:47 PM ET
Damon delivers with bat and arm
Center fielder's clutch defense, homer proves crucial
BOSTON -- Johnny Damon -- the five-tool outfielder for the Boston Red Sox, not just Johnny the speed demon -- showed up and made his presence felt during a pivotal 10-minute stretch between the third and fourth innings against Oakland in Saturday's 5-4 victory.
Damon, known more for his defensive skills and his speed, hit a crucial two-run home run off of Oakland pitcher Steve Sparks, who replaced an injured Tim Hudson, in the bottom of the third inning on an 0-1 count to push the Red Sox ahead, 2-1. It marked Damon's first home run of the postseason and his first homer at Fenway since July 27 against the Yankees. The center fielder hit one homer in the final 173 at-bats of the season.
"A lot of times we don't know what a knuckleball is going to do, but that one, I was just trying to hit a pop fly to the outfield," Damon said. "I was trying to hit to left field because of that strong arm (Jose) Guillen has.
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
"I just made contact and I was not sure if it was going to sail over the wall or not. It came at a good time. It put us up and we were able to stay close to them."
Jason Varitek, who preceded Damon, reached base on a fielder's choice hit sharply up the middle and motored around to third base after a throwing error was charged to Oakland second baseman Mark Ellis. Two pitches later, Damon's homer gave the home team a lift and the lead. He was trying to hit the ball of the Green Monster, but did something even better.
But Damon was not done.
In the top half of the next inning, he showed off his arm following a leadoff single by Guillen. The next batter, Adam Melhuse, followed with a base hit to left center and Damon threw out Guillen attempting to advance to third base with a perfect strike from the outfield.
Red Sox third baseman Bill Mueller applied the tag just moments before Guillen, who slid head-first, touched the bag. Damon finished 1-for-4 and he is hitting .294 in the ALDS.
Damon knew his team needed a lift and a defensive play would more than suffice.
"I attacked the ball like I needed to get him out at third," Damon said. "I wasn't worried about the guy taking second base. In most situations during the course of a season, our team was able to out-slug other teams, and we just weren't scoring runs today. I felt I needed to cut him down at third base.
"I got around the ball good, made a good throw, Billy made a great tag, saved the run perhaps and possibly saved our season."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for
MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its