10/10/2003 5:13 PM ET
Damon will 'definitely' be in lineup
BOSTON -- There will undoubtedly be a rousing salute from his pals in the center field bleachers when he takes the field with the rest of the Red Sox Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park. And when he leads off the bottom of the first inning, there will be a deafening standing ovation from the packed house that will be audible to all those roaming Yawkey Way and Lansdowne Street.
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
If, as expected, Johnny Damon makes his return to the lineup for Game 3 of this American League Championship Series against the Yankees, it figures to be an inspirational moment for the player, his team and the 34,000 or so Fenway fans who will stretch their vocal chords to the limit.
Damon's last act in a game was the jarring, head-on collision he had with teammate Damian Jackson in pursuit of a fly ball in the seventh inning of the decisive Game 5 of the American League Division Series at Oakland on Monday. The crash with Jackson knocked Damon unconscious for a few minutes and gave him a concussion he's spent the last few days recovering from.
Red Sox manager Grady Little expects Damon will give it a go, barring any last-minute setbacks. And the man who can best be described as the igniter of the Red Sox offense is ready to make his presence felt in this series.
"I'm definitely going to be in the lineup (Saturday)," Damon said after doing some sprinting, hitting and fielding on the Fenway lawn Friday afternoon.
As far as Damon is concerned, his recovery period ended with the first two games in New York, which the teams split. When Roger Clemens meets Pedro Martinez in what should be an epic Game 3 battle, there's nowhere Damon wants to be besides in the lineup.
"This is what it's all about. Trying to get on the field during the most critical time of the year, and this is it for us," Damon said. "Of course I would have loved to play in the first two games, but something happened on the way to New York."
That something was confusion on a shallow fly ball by Jermaine Dye. Damon called for it, but amid all the crowd noise, Jackson couldn't hear him.
Yes, Damon was able to stomach watching a video clip of the play.
"I did see the replay. It's not painful for me to see," Damon said. "It's just unfortunate I can't take a header like that. D.J.'s got a hard head. It got so loud in that stadium, he couldn't hear me. I'm very happy we went into New York and won that first game and it's one to one."
Given all that Damon means to the team, the Red Sox did well to salvage a split.
"Johnny's huge," Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. "Johnny's our ability to turn the corner from the bottom of the lineup to the top of the lineup. He can hit all different types of pitching. He's our speed, he's also a key hitter for us. We look forward to getting him back in the lineup."
Some players might be tentative coming back from an injury like this one. Not Damon. The old high school football player in him comes out every time he takes the baseball field, be it April or October.
"We're getting that opportunity to see him go out there again and run into walls, hopefully not bang his head this time," said Sox right-hander John Burkett. "He's a hard-nosed guy and a big part of our lineup. He does a lot of things. He can hit a home run. He can steal bases. He's a battler up there at the plate. I think he poses a lot of problems for the other team, puts a lot of pressure on the defense."
Whatever Damon does in Saturday's contest against Clemens and the Yankees, don't expect him to use his injury as any kind of a fall-back should things not go well.
"I'm going to play and you're going to get my best tomorrow," said Damon. "There's no saying I'm 50 or 60 percent ready. I feel like I'm 100 percent ready. Whether or not I show that on the field is yet to be seen. There's not going to be any excuses once I take the field."
The occasional blurriness Damon had in the days following the concussion is gone. He said there are still some sporadic headaches, but he's not worried about it.
"Of course I'm a little stiff running-wise," Damon said. "I haven't run in a couple of days. I haven't really thrown the ball in a couple of days. Of course things are going to be a little off-key. For the most part, I think I'm ready. Hopefully I can get out there and help the team win. I wouldn't put myself on the field if I didn't think I could play."
Though he's focused on making sure he's fully prepared for his return to the lineup, Damon couldn't help but allow himself to appreciate what kind of matchup it will be out there in Game 3.
"What a great game," Damon said. "I'm not too excited about facing Clemens, but seeing the other guy pitch, that's going to be exciting. (Clemens) is a tough guy to come back on. Hopefully things can work out."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.