Red Sox on right end of bizarre play
Youkilis ends up with a triple after Damon can't hold on
NEW YORK -- It only took a split second.
In one moment during the top of the third inning, the Yankees saw their two-run lead over the Red Sox disappear. New York watched one of its most productive hitters leave the field with his arm clutched around his waist.
And because of one ball that lingered on the left-field wall just a little too long, the game's momentum shifted in what eventually ended as a 6-4 victory for the Red Sox.
With two outs, Kevin Youkilis stepped to the plate for Boston and smacked a fly ball deep to left field. Johnny Damon took chase and crashed against the wall to make the grab. The ball could temporarily be seen in his glove before it popped out.
But then it seemed to disappear, and all eyes -- including those of Damon -- searched the outfield before a white object was spotted sitting on top of the left-field wall.
"I think it was bizarre in that it stayed on the wall," said Mike Lowell, who delivered the game-winning three-run homer for Boston in the fifth inning. "I don't think I've ever seen that."
In a strange series of events, the ball rocked back and forth while Damon fell backward onto the warning track. As he sat up, the left fielder whipped his head around to locate the ball as it dropped back onto the field with Youkilis legging out a two-run triple to tie the game.
But when the commotion about the odd sequence had settled, losing a lead was only one of the problems the Yankees faced.
After making the throw, Damon threw his glove to the ground, wincing and holding his left arm tight against his body, close to his right ribs.
Instead of making a catch that would have ended the frame for the Red Sox, Damon was forced to leave the game with what was later diagnosed as a contusion and sprain of the AC joint of his left shoulder.
"You know when Johnny leaves a game, something's wrong," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He almost caught it, he almost ran through the wall. It's a huge play. Johnny is not going to shortchange on effort."
But as he walked off the field, the first thing on Damon's mind was the thought that he couldn't make the game-saving play, and he stopped at the pitcher's mound on his way to the dugout.
"He apologized, said he had it the whole time," starter Darrell Rasner said. "He was apologetic. I don't know why. He did his best to catch that ball, and I appreciate what he did out there."
X-rays came back negative, and Damon, who also underwent an MRI, will be re-evaluated Saturday. Damon is listed as day-to-day, but he said he will need at least a couple days off to recover.
The injury came as a big blow to the Yankees' offense. Damon hit a leadoff double off Boston ace Josh Beckett, and Damon is batting .319 with six home runs and 37 RBIs in 82 games this season.
"Johnny's everything for us," Rasner said. "He gets us going, and he's a huge spark for us."
Coupled with the absence of slugger Hideki Matsui, who is on the disabled list with left knee inflammation, missed games for Damon could result in further problems for the Yankees, whose offense has proved inconsistent in recent games.
"This could be a big trouble spot for us," Damon said. "I feel like my bat was where it needs to be, and I know the team would like to have me at the top putting together some quality at-bats. Now we have to look to the other guys to do that."
One day after Damon urged his teammates to pick up their play and get the team going, the left fielder showed off the energy he was talking about, first at the plate, then on the field.
"Johnny's effort was unbelievable -- he ran into that wall at full speed," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's not a catch that you're probably going to make, but Johnny's effort was unbelievable. Unfortunately he didn't have another step to the wall to secure it."
Damon joked that at least he hit the wall hard enough to bring the ball back into play instead of turning it into a home run. But when asked about the energy and drive he demonstrates on a daily basis, Damon became serious.
"I go out and play with passion," he said. "And that's what I tried to do today."
Samantha Newman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.