Yet, it was a defensive gem by the left fielder in Sunday’s 10-6 victory over the Baltimore Orioles that drew the most praise.
Baltimore had cut a 4-0 lead in half and had runners at the corners with two outs in the fourth inning when Damon sprinted far to his left to snare a rising liner by Brian Roberts and end the threat.
“That was the key play in the game,” Orioles interim manager Dave Trembley said. “You can take all the other stuff on both sides, and it kind of balances out. Both teams hit the heck out of the ball.”
Had the ball dropped in, Baltimore would have pulled even and had the potential go-ahead run at second. Instead, the Orioles never led in having their six-game winning streak end.
“I thought I had a double. Game tied,” Roberts said.
Damon, who usually plays center field, said: “I just had to get used to the angles out there. I’ve been working hard, trying to figure out how the ball is going to spin off the hitter’s bat. Fortunately, today I was able to run down a ball at a critical time in the game.”
Manager Joe Torre was delighted with all facets of Damon’s play, especially because it enabled the Yankees to avoid a three-game sweep.
“He had a great game, a great game. Defensively and offensively,” Torre said.
Speaking specifically of the catch, the manager said, “It was big. Anytime you save runs it’s huge.”
New York’s Alex Rodriguez, seeking his 500th home run, went 0-for-2 with a run-scoring grounder and three walks. He received a four-pitch walk from Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera in the fifth inning, was walked intentionally in the seventh and reached on a five-pitch walk in the eighth.
Since hitting No. 499 on Wednesday in Kansas City, Rodriguez is 0-for-12, including a groundout in the June 28 suspended game that was completed Friday night.
“We made big pitches to him, and he probably helped us out a little bit. He chased some pitches out of the strike zone,” Trembley said.
New York shortstop Derek Jeter went 2-for-3 with two walks. He now has 7,218 at-bats, moving past Babe Ruth into fifth place on the Yankees’ career list, but left the game in the eighth inning with a sore shoulder—the result of a play at the plate six innings earlier.
“He did pretty well with it but it started to get tender,” Torre said.
Chien-Ming Wang (12-5) gave up three runs and nine hits in six innings to help New York pull within four of the wild-card lead. He is 5-1 in his last six starts.
The Yankees led 5-4 before pulling away with a five-run eighth. Damon doubled and scored, and Bobby Abreu had a two-run single.
Roberts homered, Nick Markakis had three hits and Paul Bako drew a career-high four walks for the Orioles, who were denied a season-high seventh straight victory. The loss also ended Baltimore’s eight-game home winning streak.
But the Orioles—now 11-5 since the All-Star break—took consolation in giving the Yankees all they could handle.
“Everybody ought to feel proud of the way we played, and the fact this game was not a giveaway. We came back every time,” Trembley said.
Cabrera (7-11) allowed four runs, six hits and five walks in six innings. He struck out five.
In his previous outing, Cabrera limited Tampa Bay to one hit in seven shutout innings. This time, the erratic right-hander permitted four runs, four hits and four walks in the first two innings.
He settled down, though, and the Orioles made a game of it.
Two innings after being robbed by Damon, Roberts hit an RBI single in the sixth to bring Baltimore to 4-3.
That made it 5-4, but New York pulled away in the eighth against reliever Paul Shuey. Matsui, who drove in a run with a groundout, finished 0-for-3 with three RBIs.
Roberts hit a two-run homer in the Orioles’ half.
The Yankees loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning but scored only one run, on a fly ball by Matsui.
New York made it 4-0 in the second. Successive doubles by Andy Phillips and Melky Cabrera produced a run, and Damon added an RBI single. Rodriguez drove in a run with a groundout, but Jeter was thrown out at the plate on the play.
The start of the game was delayed by rain for 42 minutes. … Phillips extended his career-high hitting streak to 11 games. … Abreu snapped a 1-for-16 skid with a fifth-inning double, then was picked off. … All three games in the series were sellouts. The series drew 144,290, fifth-highest for a three-game series at Camden Yards.