10/11/2003 5:53 PM ET
Damon delivers in first game back
Red Sox center fielder singles in first three at-bats
BOSTON -- From the time Johnny Damon went down after a scary collision with teammate Damian Jackson during Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Oakland, the Red Sox have gone out of their way to note how important their center fielder and leadoff man has been to the team.
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
In his first game back -- his first inning, actually -- he underscored that importance and helped give Boston an early lead in an eventual 4-3 loss.
Damon, who was carted off the field in Oakland by an ambulance, spent the night in a Bay Area hospital with a concussion and missed Games 1 and 2 of the AL Championship Series, received a thunderous ovation from the Fenway Park crowd before Game 3 on Saturday.
"This is the reason I wanted to come play here at Fenway. The fans have been awesome," he said. "For me, this is just a great place to play."
And when he camped under Enrique Wilson's lazy fly ball, fighting the twilight sun in center to record the first out of the game, the cheers were just as loud.
"Yes, even battling the bright sun out there, I had a feeling it was going to be hit to me," Damon said. "It wasn't a tough play, and I was able to track it down no problem."
But that was nothing compared to the decibel level in the bottom of the inning, which Damon opened with a rocket of an infield single off Yankees starter Roger Clemens that third baseman Wilson did well to simply knock down.
With the crowd still rocking, Damon scooted to third on a double off the Green Monster by Todd Walker, then strolled home on a two-run single by Manny Ramirez.
There was little doubt that Damon had recovered from the concussion he suffered in the ALDS, in which he batted .316 and had a hit in all five games. Not completely recovered, but enough to give the Sox that spark they felt they were missing without him.
"I felt all right," Damon said after the game. "I just feel very tired. It was still a possibility I wasn't going to play today because when I went out there, I felt a couple steps slow.
"I haven't played in a couple of days. I kind of felt like the first day of Spring Training. My legs didn't feel there. My head wasn't as focused as I would have liked when I stepped on the field, but I felt good enough to go out and step on the field."
He looked pretty good with one out in the third when he singled again, slapping a ground ball to short that Derek Jeter knocked down before deciding not to make a throw.
"Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good," Damon said. "I hit two balls hard right at them, and fortunately the scorekeeper took good care of me."
And in the sixth, Damon led off with his third hit of the night against Clemens, a line drive into left field. Despite moving into scoring position when Walker drew a walk, he was stranded when Nomar Garciaparra struck out and Ramirez hit into an inning-ending double play.
In his final at-bat, against Mariano Rivera to open the bottom of the eighth, Damon grounded out. His batting average in the postseason is .391 (9-for-23), but despite the dramatic return, the loss left him wanting for more.
"Unfortunately," he said, "I couldn't get the extra-base hits and get myself into scoring position a little bit more. ... I'm going to make sure I get a good night's rest. I'll be ready to go tomorrow."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.