Damon Enters Other Side Of Yankees Folklore
Every Yankees championship season in recent memory has had a signature moment that defined that particular postseason run.
Let's take a look back, shall we?
1996: The One With Jim Leyritz (World Series, Game Four)
The Yanks were down two-games-to-one against the defending world champion Braves and trailing by three runs in the eighth when Leyritz stepped into the box with two on against closer Mark Wohlers.
That's when Wohlers made the Wohlers-like error of going away from his dominating fastball, and Leyritz made him pay by hammering a hanging slider over the left-field wall to tie the game. The Yankees went on to win in 10 innings.
The Leyritz blast became known as the turning point of the series.
1998: The One With Tino Martinez (World Series, Game One)
The Yankees were an unstoppable juggernaut in '98, having won 114 games during the regular season. Nobody told the Padres that, however, who went into the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium with a three-run lead.
Chuck Knoblauch tied the game with a three-run homer, however, and Martinez would eventually come up with the bases loaded and two outs against veteran Mark Langston. After home-plate umpire Rich Garcia appeared to miss an apparent called strike three (see, the umps always sucked!), Tino launched a full-count fastball into the upper deck for a grand slam.
The homer restored order for the Yanks, who went on to sweep the series and enter the pantheon of all-time great teams.
1999: The One With Chad Curtis (World Series, Game Three)
In the business-like '99 season, the Yankees cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs and were up two-games-to-none on the Braves.
Curtis' walk-off solo shot off off Mike Remlinger in the 10th buried Atlanta's hopes of getting back into the series and secured the Yankees' designation as Team Of The Decade...whatever that means.
The homer also confirmed that Jesus did indeed love Chad Curtis.
2000: The One With Paul O'Neill (World Series, Game One)
The 2000 team was running on fumes as it reached the postseason, and so was O'Neill, his body betraying him near the end of a great career.
The Yankees trailed the Mets by a run entering the ninth inning when O'Neill led off against closer Armando Benetiz. O'Neill fell behind in the count, but battled back before working a walk in a 10-pitch at-bat.
This sparked a Yankees rally and O'Neill went on to score the tying run. The Yanks won the game in 12 innings. Mets fans cried. It was a good day.
And now we have The One With Johnny Damon. Sure, there were other heroes in the ninth inning that shouldn't be forgotten. Alex Rodriguez deserves much praise for the clutch two-out double that drove Damon in, and Jorge Posada's two-run single effectively ended the game.
But if the Yanks do indeed close out the Phillies, it will be Damon's at-bat and ensuing trip around the basepaths that will be remembered as the signature moment of this World Series. It was a brilliant display of pure baseball, the nine-pitch at-bat, the sharp opposite-field single, the stolen base, and then a second steal on the same play.
I mean, have you ever seen that? And Damon pulled it off in a World Series game? It was astonishing.
This all was too much for poor, embattled Brad Lidge to take. Afraid to allow the tying run to score on a wild pitch, the basket case closer abandoned the slider (his signature out-pitch), hitting Mark Teixeira in the shoulder with a fastball and then pumping two more in to A-Rod, the second of which was laced against the wall in left.
Prior to last night, Damon's most prominent place in Yankee folklore was not what he did for the team but what he did against it, hitting grand slam that sealed New York's fate in the 2004 ALCS against the Red Sox. He's come full-circle now, earning "True Yankee" status, to steal a line from The Boss.
The Yankees have consistently shown throughout this special year that they rise to the occasion when challenged. The big hits, the great pitching, all those walk-offs, they are indicitive of something bigger.
Damon led the charge this time, providing the latest example that this teams looks every bit a champion.
Dan Hanzus can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus .
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