There were a lot of heroes in the ninth inning of Game 4: A-Rod, of course; Jorge Posada, for making the bottom of the inning a whole lot less stressful; Brad Lidge, depending on how you look at it — but none of that happens if not for Johnny Damon’s two-out single and his wild steal of both second and third. And while you could argue that he would have scored just as easily from second on an A-Rod double (predetermined-destiny alert!), it doesn’t change the fact that he made one of the all-time great heads-up base-running decisions, on the biggest stage imaginable, on the heels of a terrific nine-pitch at-bat.
Just how heads-up was it? On the postgame show, more than one of his teammates admitted they had no idea what he was doing when he took off for third. (Among them was Joba Chamberlain, who had a night to forget all around, except that he technically got the win.) For the record, Derek Jeter said he knew exactly what Damon was doing. Though like Jeter said, he’s familiar with that play: It was a similar defensive-shift scenario to the one where he dislocated his shoulder in 2003, except in this case, nobody on the Phillies made much of an effort to cover third.
Before the playoffs started, Yankees GM Brian Cashman said in a radio interview that, when determining whether to bring back free-agents-to-be, the team doesn’t really consider what happens in the postseason. The thinking was that the sample size is too small, so it’s not fair to punish or reward a player based on how he performs in October (or, for that matter, November). In general, it’s a little hard to believe they entirely stick to this. But it’s even harder to imagine, when it comes time to decide whether Johnny Damon will be a Yankee next year, that last night’s ninth inning won’t at least be discussed. This was quite possibly Damon’s most important night as a Yankee, in one of those games that will be replayed over and over as long as there’s a YES Network. A-Rod may have gotten the back pages today (and one of the front pages, too), but he’s not the only one who had a defining moment last night.