When Johnny comes running home again



Because of the way FOX produces baseball games, when Johnny Damon slid safely into second, popped up and then started heading for third, my heart dropped. “What are you doing?” I thought. How could Damon, already in scoring position for Mark Teixeira, dream of taking third when Pedro Feliz was covering second and had the ball?

It was then that I realized Pedro Feliz, the Phillies’ third baseman, had the ball. If he had the ball, well, then no one was covering third. And why was no one covering third? Because Mark Teixeira was up from the left side, and all year teams have put a drastic shift on for lefty Teixeira.

So when Feliz fielded the ball in front of the base, Damon raced him to third. Says Jayson Stark:

Damon admitted afterward he had never done this before. And, in fact, it wasn’t immediately clear the last time anyone did this. But Damon said he’d been talking about it and thinking about it all year, since it became clear The Shift was going to be a regular feature of Teixeira’s left-handed at-bats.

Damon had to be safe. He had to know he would be safe because with Phil Coke, and not Mariano Rivera, warming up for a tie game, the Yankees couldn’t afford to take chances. After the game, Damon chuckled disbelievingly at the play. “If it was Chone Figgins,” he said, “that might have been tough. I just went off of instinct. And fortunately, it worked out.”

Once on third base, Damon was firmly inside the heads of Brad Lidge and Carlos Ruiz, the Phillies’ battery. Lidge hit Mark Teixeira with the next pitch and refused to throw Alex Rodriguez a slider for fear that a wild pitch would give the Yanks the lead. A-Rod and Jorge Posada made that slider a moot point, and before the dust had settled, the Yanks were sitting pretty on a 7-4 lead.

While thinking about the play as the post-game show unfolded last night, I remembered 2003 and so did Derek Jeter. On Opening Day, the Yankees were in Toronto, and Jeter had a lead off first base. Jason Giambi hit a bouncer to Roy Halladay, and Doc threw to Carlos Delgado at first. Jeter knew that, with the Giambi shift on, third base was unoccupied, and he didn’t stop. Delgado threw across the diamond as Ken Huckaby, Toronto’s catcher, raced up the line. Huckaby caught the ball and crashed into Jeter. Derek’s shoulder was dislocated, and he would not play again until May 13.

Last night, there was no Ken Huckaby, no Carlos Ruiz, no Brad Lidge awaiting Johnny Damon at third base. The Yanks’ left fielder caught everyone off guard, and as the Yankee bench, millions of fans, and Carlos Ruiz watched the play unfold, Damon beat Feliz in a dash to third. It was a race for ages.

“You know how people always tell you that they’ve been in baseball for 40 years, 50 years, and things happen every game that they never saw?” Yankees bench coach Tony Pena said last night. “Well, I’ve never seen that before. I never saw that before in my life.”

Categories : Playoffs


  1. I’ll bet this leads to a refinement of the Overshift defensive play:

    The pitcher needs to be sprinting to 3B on stolen base attempts. As soon as he sees Ruiz throw it to second to get Damon, he needs to be hauling ass to third. If Lidge was even a mere 20 feet closer to the 3B bag, he would have had an angle to cut off Damon with. Cover the uncovered base.

    • Bo says:

      That is how its done. Lidge just screwed up and didnt do his job. Thats why they shouldnt have been shifting in the first place. But it shouldnt have been told to Lidge as soon as Damon singled to be ready for it because everyone steals on Lidge.

      • Mark B. says:

        “Lidge just screwed up”

        Now there is a phrase the Phillie fans havenn’t uttered once this year.

        • maximus says:

          I smiled when Damon ran to third and saw noone covering the base because FAILADELPHIA had a shift on Teixeira.

          If Cliff Lee stops the Yankees from hitting for 2 or 3 innings I would suggest the Yankees consider a bunting attack. Pass this on to whoever can get it to Joe Girardi.

          Why a bunting attack? Because with Cliff Lee pitching deceptive changeups if the batter holds the bat out front, the ball will come to the bat and the batter won’t have to worry about the ball coming too fast or too slow, as the ball will come to the bat. Yes the batter will have to locate it up or down left or right a bit but he won’t have to worry about swinging too early or late as the bat will meet the ball. This bunting attack will also put pressure on Cliff Lee and the rest of the team.

          I have rooted for the Yankees for 52 years.

    • Chris says:

      Why doesn’t the SS just cover 2B in that case? In most instances of the shift, he’s going to be close to the bag anyway.

      • Bo says:

        Even if Lidge was in the general area Damon would not have tried it.

        He messed up. Badly.

      • Zack says:

        They probably dont want him moving out of position when Damon takes off, thus basically breaking the shift.

      • Mike HC says:

        Somebody should back up the throw down to second in case it gets away. If the SS covers second and the 3rd baseman goes to third, nobody would back up the throw. If the pitcher goes over, who is doing nothing anyway, then then third is covered, and the backup is covered.

    • Rose says:

      Catcher is suppose to cover 3B and the pitcher is suppose to cover HP. It was Ruiz’s mistake. He should have been there…or at least close so Damon wouldn’t have ran in the first place.

      • Zack says:

        So he has to make the throw and sprint 90 feet up the basepath wearing catching equipment?

        • Rose says:

          Basically…yes. It sounds ridiculous but the catcher still has the best way to get there. Remember, the pitcher is ducking from the throw from the catcher…so he’s on his knees. He can’t get over there that quick either.

          It’s not really his “fault”…but if anyone were to be there…it would have been Ruiz. It’s just one of those plays where you tip your cap to Damon. You don’t really see this that often…

          • Zack says:

            I dont know if I agree. In a footrace I’d take the pitcher ducking on the mound over a catcher in his gear 90% of the time.

            The other times it would be with Tim Wakefield slow ass pitcher on the mound, or with the occasional quick catcher

      • Tubby says:

        This is the case if the pitcher is involved in the play, like in the Jeter example from 2003. But on steals, the catcher stays put and the pitcher covers 3rd (or at least heads in the direction of 3rd base. That’s usually all it takes to keep the runner at 2nd).

        • Rose says:

          The catcher releases the ball and just sits there while the pitcher ducks the throw…AND then sprints over to 3rd in time to get the guy out?? Remember, the catcher has already released the throw…and THEN the pitcher has to duck AFTER it’s thrown.

          • He (the pitcher) doesn’t really need to make it to third, he just needs to make it a few feet closer to third to have an angle to meet the runner in the basepath.

            It’s still probably easier than the catcher throwing (from a crouch) and then running up the 3B line.


          • Tubby says:

            Yes, that’s exactly what happens. The pitcher doesn’t have to sprint anywhere. He ducks, jogs towards the general area of third base, and the baserunner sees that and stays put. The pitcher has to go a much shorter distance to discourage the baserunner from going. The catcher would need to run the full 90 feet.

      • Catcher is suppose to cover 3B and the pitcher is suppose to cover HP.

        Seeing as how:
        A) The pitcher’s distance to get to 3B is much smaller than the catcher’s
        B) The pitcher probably runs faster than the catcher anyway, not withstanding all the extra catching gear
        C) The catcher is already standing on home, thus “covering” it

        … the notion that the catcher should leave home and run 90 feet to cover third and the pitcher should leave the rubber and run 60.5 feet to cover home seems counterintuitive and and an all around Bad Idea Jeans.

        • Rose says:

          So the pitchers ducks under the throws…summersaults down the mound into a few backflips towards the bag??

          I see…

        • Rose says:

          All I know is that they addressed this in the post game show with Charlie Manuel…and he said, himself, that Ruiz should have been there…because his pitcher was ducking the throw, etc. Listed reasons.

          I’m just agreeing with a professional baseball manager.

          • Mike HC says:

            Both should be able to get there in time to be honest. To me it would seem easier for the pitcher to get there even with the duck, but I also think the catcher should be able to make the play as well.

        • Rose says:

          “It’s the catcher or pitcher,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said of who was responsible for covering third. “They’ve got to be heads-up. Evidently there was some miscommunication there. That’s the first time we’ve had it happen to us this year but, at the same time, somebody has got to be covering third base.”

          • Mike HC says:

            You would think that the Phils would know whether it was the pitcher or the catcher. Odd that the manager would not have a say in this and just leave it up unsaid in the hopes that all the pitchers and catchers have discussed this with themselves. Or did he assume it was the job of one of his assistants?

            • Tubby says:

              Exactly. What kind of answer is that – “It’s the catcher or pitcher”. Really Charlie?

              Damon expected to see Lidge on third. “We have talked about it throughout the year, especially when Mark is up,” he said. “I was just trying to be aggressive and get into scoring position, and it just worked out where there was a throw. The third baseman covered (second), and the pitcher did not,” cover third.

            • Rose says:

              They interviewed Jimmy Rollins and he said he usually informs the pitcher that he’s suppose to cover 3B in this situation but “forgot” to talk to Brad during this specific time.

              Johnny Damon also said that the Yankees have definitely talked about this situation during the year with a situation specifically with Tex.

              • Mike HC says:

                As Zack wrote above, I’m starting to get the feeling that the Phils are trying to not hurt the “feelings” of Lidge. Manual said it was pitcher or catcher and Rollins is taking some blame for forgetting to talk to Lidge, like Lidge should not know it was his responsibility from the get go. It is obvious really. Lidge simply fucked it up.

        • dalelama says:

          You are right…those who say the catcher is supposed to cover have obviously never played any serious ball.

    • MJM says:

      When the Red Sox were in Cincinnati last year, Brandon Phillips was on first and the Sox overshifted for Adam Dunn. Phillips stole second and tried the same thing on a wide throw but Tim Wakefield (if I recall correctly) had started towards third and Phillips was out by a mile. It’s the only other time I can remember seeing that play attempted.

      • Rose says:

        That very well could have happened…but usually the pitcher is ducking from the throw from the catcher…so he doesn’t have that much time to get over there either…

        • MJM says:

          It’s a little hard to see, but Wakefield doesn’t break right away and still gets there in plenty of time. Of course Phillips damn near ran into left field making the turn. I suspect it would be close as to who can get there faster, a catcher immediately after releasing the throw or the pitcher after the throw passes him but with less ground to cover.


  2. Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

    Johnny Damon’s steal of second and third was the third greatest base stealing event in World Series history. Second place was Jackie Robinson’s steal of home against the Yankees in 1955. First place was, of course, was Jacoby Ellsbury’s steal of home against Andy Pettitte in April.

    /ESPN’d (Pick your talking head)

  3. larryf says:

    Agreed but depending on who is batting before Tex (9,1,2), this is either a great play to try several times during the season or teams will not overshift as much and Tex gets a few more hits. Baseball is so great. After watching thousands of games-new stuff continues to unfold-even for the Tony Pena’s of the world. As for the Charlie Manuels-can you imagine if he managed the Yanks? it would be brutal…

    • Zack says:

      Teams will still overshift, just make their pitchers aware to cover third. Ball hit to right side of infield, automatically run to cover first. Guy steals with the shift, automatically run to third.

  4. Chris says:

    I tend to agree that the play seemed to get into Lidge’s head, but all these people talking about how it took away his slider are a little ridiculous. If Lidge/Ruiz were afraid to go to a slider with a runner on third, then why was the first pitch after Damon stole third a slider?

    • toad says:

      Agree, sort of.

      If it’s true that he was afraid of throwing the slider then he’s an idiot. You can’t not throw a pitch just because there’s a runner on third. If it’s in the dirt, let the catcher block it. That’s his job.

      Also, I’m impressed by Damon’s statement that he’s been thinking about this play for a while. It really wasn’t just instinct. It was good baseball brains.

      • Sweet Dick Willie says:

        Per Chad Jennings:

        In the clubhouse after tonight’s game, someone asked Derek Jeter how smart Johnny Damon is. “Well, he called himself an idiot,” Jeter said.

  5. Dan says:

    I wish I had videotaped my buddies and I last night. Going from yelling at the stolen base, the silent shock of seeing him continue to run, and then the screaming when FOX finally showed there was no one at 3rd. It was like someone was playing with the mute button.

    Good stuff though, definitely something we will not see again for a long time.

    • Zack says:

      +1 same here. My heart skipped a beat when I saw Damon take off, did Feliz actually trick him into thinking the ball got by him? But yeah, it was a crazy 10 seconds.

  6. bonestock94 says:

    Such a great heads up play. The game was over if Coke came into the bottom 9th with a tie, done.

    • Guest says:

      It did not look good. Seeing Coke warm up…was…not a pretty sight.

      No disrespect to Phil Coke, but the top of that lineup when they only need to squeak out one run. Not pretty.

    • The game was over if Coke came into the bottom 9th with a tie, done.


      I agree it was a heads up play, and I’m tickled blue that we scored there and made it moot, but no, the game was not over if Coke came into the bottom of the 9th with a tie. Not by a longshot.

      This team can win any game, even a game in Philadelphia with Phil Coke pitching in the 9th inning. Do not doubt the 2009 New York Yankees.

  7. Free Mike Vick says:


    Look at Feliz’s face. You know he’s thinking, “Damn…we just lost the world series.”

    • MatyRuggz says:

      And I’m sure Phillies fans and certain knucklehead talk radio hosts are crying “Yankee conspiracy” involving the guy who changed that rule in the 19th century that would have otherwise allowed Feliz to peg Damon in the back for an easy 3rd out.

  8. Tom Zig says:

    “You know how people always tell you that they’ve been in baseball for 40 years, 50 years, and things happen every game that they never saw?” Yankees bench coach Tony Pena said last night. “Well, I’ve never seen that before. I never saw that before in my life.”

    And that’s why I love baseball

  9. A.D. says:

    I had the same feeling, thinking “what the #&^% is he doing” and then before seeing 3rd, seeing Feliz give up and have an unhappy look, realizing no one must have been covering 3b.

  10. MatyRuggz says:

    It wasn’t quite a race for the ages… made me think of Carl Lewis racing my 85-year-old grandmother as Feliz gave up halfway between 2nd and 3rd (and about 15 strides behind Damon by that point).

  11. The Iron Horse says:

    Did Damon just get his contract renewed in a single, great play?

    Right up there with the plastic bag in the movie American Beauty, this was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

  12. TheLastClown says:

    So with Johnny’s previous cold spell, combined with his 4 hits & a BB in the last two games, plus of course that head’s up steal, who still wants JD back next year?

    I think we’ve got more of a decline on D to look forward to, plus perhaps more of a streaky nature to his offense.

    I for one still think Damon on a 1 yr deal should be done.

    • Mike HC says:

      I would be fine with a two year deal. Three will be the question though? That may be too much of a commitment depending on the money.

      I definitely agree that this WS, especially the past two games, has bumped his stock up big time. But just as quickly as it can rise, it can fall depending on what happens the rest of the series. In reality, his perceived value should not jump that much in either direction based on a short series, but that is the nature of the WS I guess. Everything gets magnified.

  13. steve s says:

    The play was the running equivalent of the hidden ball trick. At the risk of hyperbole, it will be replayed and remembered in a similar fashion to Kirk Gibson’s HR and the ball going through Buckner’s legs as WS turning point moments.

  14. sarge-in-fla says:

    great heads-up play by damon. he caught everyone asleep, including the fox announcers.

  15. Easily the most critical play of the WS thus far.

  16. UWS says:

    I just watched in stunned silence as the play unfolded, and kept expecting Feliz to throw the ball to the guy covering 3rd. Couldn’t understand why he was chasing Johnny instead. Then the camera panned out to show the uncovered base. And…exhale. What a wild game this was…

  17. tommydee2000 says:

    Think back 10 years to the WS on NBC. I think they set the play up properly around the shift, and Costas immediately realizes what is going on.

  18. Tank Foster says:

    You listen to Johnny Damon speak in post-game interviews, and you get the impression he isn’t going to make the debate team or head up Law Review. But he is so baseball smart.

    You have to be baseball smart to have that at bat, first of all. To have a clear head, be prepared, and think quickly enough to stay alive and get the hit. Then, on the steals, I am sure he had gone over the whole thing in his head to a degree, and one thing for sure is that nobody on the Phillies infield, and probably even the bench, was thinking about it.

    Not re-signing Damon would be a mistake.

    • JMK aka The Overshare says:

      You listen to Johnny Damon speak in post-game interviews, and you get the impression he isn’t going to make the debate team or head up Law Review. But he is so baseball smart.

      Don’t make the assertion that Damon is only baseball smart because he’s a former stutterer. You have no idea.

  19. NatalMike says:

    Remenber the old days when the camera was behind the plate showing the play in front of the viewer? Now all we get is super close-ups that show nothing at all except a 2-day stubble. hence, why nobody knew 3rd base was uncovered.

  20. I kept wondering why Feliz never threw the baseball

  21. tommydee2000 says:

    One other thing: this underscores the fallacy of always using the shift.

    The right-handed pitcher is following through toward 1st on a pitch delivered in anger, then ducking under the throw.

    The catcher caught a low pitch and thew to 2nd from his knees.

    How realistic was it for either to beat Damon to 3rd?

    • Mike HC says:

      I think it is just as realistic to expect the pitcher to get to third on that play as it is to expect the pitcher to get to first base when the ball is hit to the first baseman.

      • tommydee200 says:

        But he’s not in a crouch on a ground ball.

        • Zack says:

          whats the big deal with the crouch? he’s not down to his knees or on his back

        • Mike HC says:

          and the runner is not already in the standing position running to first 90 feet away. When the ball crosses over the head of Lidge, the runner is not yet to second base. He still has to reach second, round the bag or slide and get up, which slows you down considerably, and run to third. The fact that the runner has not yet reached second base, plus he still has to round the base, or slide and get back up, evens out the fact that the pitcher has to get to third from the crouch.

    • One other thing: this underscores the fallacy of always using the shift.

      No, it doesn’t.

      • tommydee200 says:

        It didn’t seem to occur to them that Damon would do what he did, so maybe this time it did.

        • This may cause teams to think twice about the shift (although I doubt it), yes.

          But it does not underscore any fallacy in strategy regarding the usage of the shift. This play is a rarity. Rare plays do not serve as evidence of correct or incorrect strategy; they’re fluky outliers.

          • tim randle says:

            fortunately (or unfortunately as the case may be), people remember what’s happened recently and over weight it at about the same rate as the overweight outliers…so half a step or a fake towards second by the runner on first with the shift on will have the announcers, middle infielders and pitching battery’s internal alarms sounding.

            good for us I say :)

  22. Klemy says:

    I have to wonder if Lidge was thinking the same thing as all of us when johnny kept going.

    “OMG! What is he doing! LOL What a break….wait, what the hell?!?”

  23. Mike Axisa says:

    That play took minutes off my life. I saw Damon talk off, and it was a simultaneous feeling of “wtf is he doing,” “omg I want to kill him,” “please let it work,” why does this happen to me,” and “fuck.”

  24. NatalMike says:

    There was definitely a collective reduced life expectancy among Yankee fans as a result of that play

    • tim randle says:

      nope. second order, kids, second order.

      we all lost 1.4-2.7 years of life expectancy (Based on your gender, build, tabacco usage, etc) when he rounded second.

      BUT…(second order effects)…

      an entire offseason of laughter and smiles will ADD somewhere between 2.0 and 3.35 years of life expectancy.

      and that, my philthy phriends, is why your lives suck.

      and that makes me sad :(

  25. Klemy says:

    Who was most at fault for the Phillies’ loss to the Yankees in Game 4 of the World Series?
    Charlie Manuel
    2950 (25.9%)
    Brad Lidge
    6794 (59.7%)
    Ryan Howard
    1140 (10.0%)
    Joe Blanton
    172 (1.5%)
    Jayson Werth
    80 (0.7%)
    Chase Utley
    241 (2.1%)

    What the hell? Why isn’t Johnny Damon on this list?

  26. Joe D. says:

    By the by, does anyone agree that Feliz pussed out, got lazy, and gave up early on the Damon pursuit? At that point, even if you don’t think you are going to catch him, why not chase him all the way? Maybe he slips or falls or pulls a hammy.

    In other words, there’s no reason not to chase him at that point. If that had been a Yankee giving up after two steps, I would have been furious. Again, not because of the likelihood of catching him. That’s miniscule. But rather giving up pursuit is completely pointless, whereas continuing pursuit has an (admitted tiny) chance of working out.

    It’s the World Series, after all.

    • Tubby says:

      I couldn’t believe that either. Feliz took like two steps and gave up. He would have had a chance to catch him at the end because Damon would have had to slow up to step on the base, or if Damon chose to slide, he may have been able to dive and tag his foot or something. Just a weak effort all the way around.

      • mike says:

        In most cases you want to rotate the best fielder to the next base, and having a pitcher in a designed defensive play is poor planning.

        The catcher is the best person to be at the base – and he doesnt even need to be there, just begin to move towards the base and it would discourage the attempt.

        The logic that the pitcher should cover / back up is poor, as the catcher always moves to back up 1st on an infield play, where the pitcher – who is certainly closer to 1st – just gets out of the way. Same with an infield pop-up.

        In this case, the catcher rotates to 3rd, the 1B goes to cover the plate, and the other IF would be out of position backing up the throw to 2B and be available for any other infield play ( ie rundown ).

        • Mike HC says:

          Lidge also has to be ready for the rundown as the second guy at third base. Either way, Lidge has to get his ass to third.

    • ROBTEN says:

      It was the culmination of a deep and profound philosophic struggle with the truth.

      Feliz had long pondered the meaning of Nietzsche’s _Beyond Good and Evil_. When turned and saw that no one was covering third, he suddenly realized that he was staring into the abyss. And at once, he found that he had answered the question that none had dared ask:

      “I dislike him.”–Why?–”I am not a match for him.”

    • Mike HC says:

      Good point. Felix made a bad decision there too. All around horrible defensive play for the Phils, which set the tone for the next couple of at bats. They really collapsed.

  27. larryf says:

    So will we ever see that play again? If he stays on second, would he have still scored or does Lidge throw more sliders to get Tex/Arod? We will never know. I hope we try it at least once a year-just for fun. “The DAMON-IZER”

  28. Johnny Damon just pulled off a play I would do in RBI baseball all the time.

  29. maximus says:

    I hope the Yanks win tonight.

  30. Riddering says:

    You know Scott Boras was watching that inning and thinking to himself: I am very aroused!

  31. henry frisch says:

    What fun it was to be part of the crowd at Yankee Stadium last night during and after the ninth inning!!!

    Too bad FOX’s extraordinarily poor camera work never allows for wide ranging shots of what is happening.

    Still it was grand to be part of the cheering energized Yankee base last night.

  32. guy says:

    i know i repeat myself, but….

    i STILL want everyone/someone/anyone to tell FOX and most of the other networks that their video production of baseball games stinks. they rarely show fielding positions and/or changes. they are more interested in showing faces — amplifying our cult of the player and not the game.

    and while i’m at it. i’m tired of the color commentators reading from the teleprompter and pulling ridiculous stats out of their collective arses.
    my personal favorite was, ‘well, that breaks up a string of 27 scoreless innings pitched by martinez.’ only later noting, ‘well, this dates back over 5 years, since he hasnt been in the playoffs since then.’

    mccarver may have been a great catcher — but, sheesh.

    (btw, halfway through new gibson/jackson book! poorly written, but some of their interactions are priceless…)

    • maximus says:

      Ever since baseball has gotten shown on tv with the view from center field I have wanted them to show the view from behind home plate as if I’m sitting in a box seat behind home plate. Instead the broadcasters want me to sit in a cheap seat in center fied.

      I hope the Yankees beat FAILADELPHIA tonight.

  33. mustang says:

    The most fun part was watching the phillies crowd as the 9th inning developed. Seem to me I seen that look from a certain crowd in Boston.

  34. JFH says:

    now we could finally use some heavy rain to give our pitchers a rest. where is the rain when you need it? anyone know a good rain dance?

    seriously, i understand kay’s point. if bad aj shows up tonight, we will have less than 100% pettitte and cc for 6 and 7 (if necessary). he is trying to point out that sometimes you lose the battle to win the war.

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