Yankees and Red Sox - and Damon (Keith Olbermann)
NEW YORK - His team was up by ten runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and he'd already hit two homers, scored four runs, and taken one curtain call. So, Johnny Damon of the New York Yankees could've been forgiven if he didn't bust his hump when he launched a routine (albeit sky-high) pop-up high above the head of Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill on Saturday.
Johnny Damon could've been forgiven by everybody except Johnny Damon.
The ball - of course - plopped out of Hill's glove, by which time Damon was perched on second base. He had run it out. With a ten run lead. After two homers. Just in case.
In the Yankees' dugout, manager Joe Torre took the unusual step of getting his entire team's attention. "Look where Johnny is."
There were a lot of headlines in the game. The Yankees scored in every inning for the first time since the month Lou Gehrig announced he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Toronto's Yankee-killer Shea Hillenbrand nearly assumed that title literally when he and Gary Sheffield went sprawling after a collision at first base. Randy Johnson pitched like Randy Johnson - unfortunately the other Randy Johnson who briefly played third base for the Braves in the '80s and will turn 50 this summer.
But Damon stole the show. "When he came back in after scoring, I shook his hand," Torre continued. "That's what we get from him. He'll tell you: 'You never know.'"
A minute later Damon told me, "You never know."
That's the backdrop as the Yankees and the Red Sox meet this week in Boston, for the first time this season. That's what Damon's jump from Boston to the Bronx literally means - a can of the Red Bull of hustle that is no longer in the Red Sox line-up, and instead is in the Yankee one.
Much is yet to shake out among these two clubs (and their potential challengers from Toronto), but the Damon dynamic is pretty much understood now. He's running out pop flies, with two homers and four runs under his belt, and his team up 16-to-6 and needing just three outs to win, because you never know. It's the American League. Somebody - like the Blue Jays or the Red Sox - could score ten in the top of the ninth. And if that happens and you're Johnny Damon, you just preserved a 17-16 win by running out that easy pop fly.
And don't think this is a totally theoretical pie-in-the-sky pop-in-the-sky scenario. Not two hours after Damon's textbook hustle, a very promising young second baseman named Kevin Frandsen came to the plate for the San Francisco Giants. Just like Damon, it was in the bottom of the eighth. Unlike Damon's Yankees, the Giants were tied 2-2 with Arizona, with nobody out, and Omar Vizquel at first as the potential lead run.
Frandsen - in his second big league game - sent a pop 'up the chute' as they used to say. Straight up, almost directly over home plate. And what did he do? He stood there. Arizona catcher Chris Snyder - deliberately or otherwise - let the ball drop, and fired to second to retire Vizquel. The return throw beat Frandsen to first for the doubleplay, probably because Frandsen was still standing at the plate.
Having wiped out the chance at a Giants' lead, Frandsen went to the dugout bench and buried his head in his hands. He looks like a Damon - like every other day in his life he's hustled even when the odds said there was no reason to hustle. Maybe that got him off the hook; Moises Alou homered in the bottom of the 9th and the Giants won anyway.
But nobody gushed about how Frandsen had ran out that routine pop fly. Meanwhile in New York, the Yankees readied for the Red Sox by noting that the last American League to score in every inning before they did it, had been the 1998 Kansas City Royals, whose centerfielder just happened to be Johnny Damon.
Postscript: By the way, speaking of baseball and with Graduation and Father's Day gifting coming up, you could do no better than a new book by Peter Morris. A Game Of Inches (Ivan R. Dee, Publisher) is an astonishingly well-researched history of the evolutions of almost every facet of the game. You will be amazed at the amount of accepted knowledge that Morris disproves: Lou Boudreau did not invent the infield shift we see today for so many lefthanded batters in order to stymie Ted Williams - versions of it date back to 1877. And the entire story of the creation of the "Louisville Slugger" bat for 19th Century idol Pete Browning turns out to be pure mythology. I must have learned at least 100 things I didn't know about baseball history - and at my age, that's a lot. I think I'm going to have to start taking a copy with me to games - that's how useful it is.
Comments? Email KOlbermann@msnbc.com