Commentary

A dish best served in Detroit

Former Yankee Damon homers in season's first matchup with Bombers

Updated: May 11, 2010, 11:23 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

DETROIT -- Johnny Damon is not the type to gloat, or say I told you so, or rub his accomplishments in anyone's face, least of all former teammates with whom he shared the most satisfying accomplishment of all, a world championship.

At least not publicly, anyway.

And so it was that on Monday night, in the golden moments after his new team, the Detroit Tigers, had beaten the Yankees 5-4 with a big assist from Damon's fifth-inning home run, Damon wasn't about to say any of those things.

Johnny Damon
AP Photo/Paul SancyaJohnny Damon watches his solo home run in the fifth inning.

Then again, he didn't have to. His face, and the grin that split it beneath his new Mohawk hairdo, said more than any words ever could.

"I'm not the kind of person to ever do that," he said. "That's not at all what I'm about. I think my career shows people what I can do and what I'm all about. I don't need a single game to do that for me."

Damon may not need it, but he got it, and so did the Yankees. In a game that could have served as a one-day referendum on the Yankees' offseason, the verdict on a Monday night at Comerica Park was a definite thumbs down for the visiting team.

It wasn't so much that the Yankees lost -- after all, they are still playing near-.700 ball, and at 21-10 have the second-best record in baseball -- but who played the key roles in both sides of the outcome.

For the Tigers, it was, of course, Damon, whose blast into the right-field seats chased emergency starter Sergio Mitre with one out in the fifth and widened the Detroit lead from 3-2 to 4-2.

And Austin Jackson, the center-field prospect the Yankees were willing to part with in order to get Curtis Granderson. A-Jax, batting .360, was held hitless in four at-bats, but his ground out in the second drove in the Tigers' first run of the game.

And then there was Phil Coke, a throw-in on the Granderson deal, who came on in the eighth with the bases loaded and no one out and got two huge outs, including the key out of the game when he got Randy Winn to hack at a 2-0 pitch and pop out to the third baseman.

Winn, of course, was one of the outfielders the Yankees needed to sign over the winter to cobble together a replacement for Damon, who famously helped the Yankees to their 27th World Championship last fall, and then was infamously allowed to leave for his fifth major league team.

"I understood what they were afraid of, that a 36-year-old player might not be able to take the field as much as he did in the past," Damon said.

Instead, it is Damon's 29-year-old replacement, Granderson, who hasn't been able to get on the field since April 16 because of a groin strain, while Damon has yet to miss a game.

"Well, obviously I wanted to be back in New York and I kept the lines of communication open for as long as I could," he said. "They wanted me back, too, I think, but they wanted to get me on the cheap, and that's the bottom line. I understand it, it's a business. It just seems that whenever a team I'm on wins a championship, the next year they go on a budget."

Damon was referring, of course, not only to the Yankees, but to the Red Sox, who took the same tactic with Damon after he helped them break an 86-year championship drought in 2004. The question of whether or not Damon would get misty facing his old teammates was a disingenuous one. As he was the first to admit, "I'm able to turn the page pretty quickly."

The real question was, how good did it feel to round the bases after parking Mitre's first-pitch fastball into the seats, trying to make eye contact with old friends who were now professional enemies?

"Well, I was trying to catch the look on A-Rod's face when I went by him," Damon admitted. "I know more than anyone there, he wanted me back. We've been friends for a very long time, and when they didn't sign me back it definitely hurt him. That's the unfortunate thing. All the players, the coaches, the GM, they all wanted me back. But only at their price."

Damon, or more accurately his agent, Scott Boras, wasn't about to let anyone dictate his price, not even the Yankees. Whether the Yankees made a serious offer or not, or whether Boras misjudged the market and demanded the stars when all he could get was the moon, Damon took his time before finally settling on the Tigers as his latest place of professional residence.

"I didn't sign with Detroit until Feb. 20, so the Yankees definitely had plenty of time to decide," he said. "I just waited until I couldn't wait anymore. And you know what? I think things have gone pretty smoothly for me over here so far."

Game notes


Joe Girardi, who before the game promised to do a cartwheel if he got five full innings out of Mitre, was saved the indignity by Damon, whose homer chased Mitre two outs shy of managerial acrobatics. Still, Mitre pitched creditably -- five hits, four runs, one unearned due to Rodriguez's throwing error, and four K's. ... The Tigers needed an emergency starter themselves, pressing Brad Thomas -- who had been out of the major leagues from 2005-09, pitching in Asia -- into service when Dontrelle Willis was scratched with the flu. Jim Leyland pulled Thomas after three shaky innings in which he allowed two runs. ... Mark Teixeira continued his hot hitting with a third-inning home run, his fourth in nine at-bats going back to his three-homer game Saturday in Boston. ... Derek Jeter went 0-for-5 and his average continues to slide, to .286. He hit the ball well in his final at-bat, a slicing liner to right in the eighth with the tying run on third, but was robbed on a spectacular diving catch by Magglio Ordonez. ... Javier Vazquez will return to the hill Tuesday after a 10-day layoff to "clear his mind," and presumably, relocate his effectiveness after getting shelled for five runs in three innings May 1 at Yankee Stadium. Vazquez faces RHP Rick Porcello. First pitch is 7:05 p.m.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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