IIATMS Top Moment #14: Johnny Damon's Double Steal

Allow me, if you will (though you really have no choice), to discuss basketball for a moment, specifically playing basketball. Given that you're reading a sports blog, I'm sure you've at some point played many sports, including basketball. And if you've played basketball, you've no doubt taken your fair share of shots that were just god awful. Of course, when you shot them, you didn't think they were god awful, but they were. What you did recognize, however, as god awful were the shots that your chucker teammates threw up towards the rim that had no chance of going in...until they did every once in a while. This experience struck me a lot during Shabazz Napier's (glorious) run at UConn. Many, many times I did the "no, no, no, no...YES!" ritual when number 13 put one up from NBA range that seemed destined to clank off the rim, only to find, as they say, nothing but net. Baseball offers a few experiences like this--that fly ball that seems bound for the seats, but settles on the warning track; that meatball on a 3-1 count that the batter inexplicably takes--and the other sports do as well, but none seemingly as frequent as basketball. This is a long way of saying that Top Moment #14, Johnny Damon's double steal, reminded me of a basketball moment like nothing else in baseball ever has or probably ever will.

Of course any moment has background and the background for this moment was a two games to one lead for the Yankees over the Phillies in the World Series. And with a moment like this, it's not surprising that there were some oddities leading up to it--a rain-interrupted beginning to the series; the Phillies using CC Sabathia as batting practice and Cliff Lee doing the opposite to Yankee batters; A.J. Burnett pitching the game of his life in game two; Andy Pettitte driving in Nick Swisher in game three on Halloween night. Another oddity was the way in which I watched this game.

Way back in 2009, the Yankees were pretty cool about Yankee Stadium 3. They routinely opened it early enough that fans could see home team batting practice; they had all sorts of meet-and-greets at the doors; and most importantly--at least for this story--they opened it to the public for game four of the World Series, which they showed on the jumbotron in center field. Knowing that, I took a friend along and we sat behind home plate and watched in the Bronx as the Yankees and Phillies battled in Philly.

The stadium was loud. Perhaps it was because all the fans were concentrated in the lower bowl of the stadium or somehow the acoustics were just right, but the stadium sounded full, it felt full, even if it was no where near that. Fans started chants and cheers and if you closed your eyes and tuned out Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, you might actually think the game was going on right there rather than a few hours away and a some miles down I-95. So it went for eight innings; and into that eighth inning, it looked like the Yankees would win the game. Then Joba Chamberlain decided to give up a home run to Pedro Feliz, and the game was tied up going into the ninth inning.

After two batters in the ninth inning, it looked like the 2009 Fall Classic was on its way to its first extra-innings game. Brad Lidge got pinch-hitter Hideki Matsui to pop up to shortstop and then got Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter to go down swinging. Then, the insanity started.

Lidge delivered a first pitch ball to second-place hitter Johnny Damon, but then Damon fouled off two pitches to put himself into an 0-2 hole. Another foul ball followed, then Damon laid off two more pitches to load the count. Damon then fouled off two more pitches before lining a single into left field, bringing first baseman Mark Teixeira to the plate.

The Phillies moved into a shift and the first pitch to Tex was in the dirt. Damon, taking advantage of the shift and the low pitch, took off for second and made it fairly easily. Not surprisingly, the crowd at Yankee Stadium was electrified. Then, there was a collective "WHAT THE....?" moment. The no, no, no...moment. Damon took off for third base.

Given the shift, no one was covering third--Feliz, the Phillies third baseman, thanks to the shift, was covering second on the steal. Lidge didn't move to cover third on the throw down to second, so the base was wide open. My reaction to this sequence of events was: "YES..wait...WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING OH MY GOD IT'S GOING TO WORK!" It was the closest thing to a "no, no, no, YES!" moment that I think we can have in baseball.

The rest of the game went fairly simply: Tex was hit by a pitch; Alex Rodriguez ripped a double down the left field line, scoring Damon to give the Yankees the lead. Jorge Posada followed with a single (thrown out at second for the third out) that plated Tex and A-Rod, and the Yankees were up 7-4. Mariano Rivera sealed the game with an eight pitch inning and the Yankees were one win away from their 27th World Series championship.

Aside from the double-steal itself, the thing I remember most was the aftermath of the game. My friend and I walked down Jerome Avenue, back to my car, and the place was a mad house. Cars were honking their horns and flashing their lights; people were flying Yankee flags and towels out of their apartment buildings; pedestrians were high-fiving strangers like it was going out of style. Caught up in the moment, I started a chant/scream/yell that a few people picked up: "Ten down; one to go!" While the Yankees wouldn't get that one more win until game six, I don't think anyone on Jerome Avenue that night doubted for a second that win would come.