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Damon's double steal was cool, but it was not a first, and was not "the greatest"

Nov 2, 2009, 9:55 AM EDT

My hyperbole this morning aside, it seems that Johnny Damon’s double steal as a result of the overshift is not a first.  From reader Jonathan Fellows:

Willie Mays on September 30, 1971 — a game the Giants had to win to avoid a playoff — stole 2nd and 3rd on the same pitch.  Willie McCovey was up and the Padres were playing the shift.  The 3rd baseman covered second on the steal and Mays got up and took off for third after beating the throw to second.

That was this game here. It’s hard to tell all of the nuances from the box score of course, but it appears to be what happened. UPDATE: Many readers recall Brandon Phillips doing this for the Reds a couple of years ago while the shift was on for either Dunn or Griffey. UPDATE #2: Another reader notes that Jeter apparently did it on opening day 2003, in the play in which he separated his shoulder running into catcher Rod Barajas. My memory of that was that there was an error or something that allowed Jeter to advance, but I haven’t had time to check it this morning. 

And while we’re still on the subject, let’s be 100% clear about something:  Damon’s play was very, very cool. It was totally exciting. It was probably a game changer inasmuch as others have noted in the comments today, it very well may have led to Lidge not wanting to throw his best pitch — hard slider — to A-Rod for fear of uncorking a wild pitch.

But it was not — as some Yankees boosters have suggested in comments, in emails to me, and around the blogosphere this morning — “one of the greatest moments in World Series history.”  I can think of a half dozen — Joe Carter in 1993, Jack Morris in 1991, Reggie in 1977, Fisk in 1975, Mazeroski in 1960 and Larsen in 1956 — just off the top of my head. There are no doubt many others.

Uniqueness and coolness does not necessarily make for greatness.  I was totally stoked by Damon’s play, and I’m sure Yankees fans were too.  Hopefully, however, it can just be appreciated for what it is, rather than have it be pitted against truly “great” moments. Because to do so (a) diminishes those great moments by forcing them to endure a comparison that is beneath them; and (b) actually diminishes Damon’s play, because it makes it suffer by comparison. 

  1. Rich in G'burg - Nov 2, 2009 at 3:52 PM

    I have to believe that Damon, after seeing how the infield was positioned, had planned the secondary steal of third while he was still on first base. It was not at all a spur-of-moment decision after he he was safe at second. He had already planned he was going to try for third, too.

  2. ken - Nov 2, 2009 at 3:52 PM

    The Red Sox? They got swept in the first round. Red Sox fans only stick their heads out from under that rock once in a while now that 2004 and 2007 are over. The red sox might not even make the playoffs for another ten years or so. That play by Johnny Damon was one of the most heads up and daring plays I have seen in a long long time in World Series play. Not only did he have to be aware no one was covering third, he had to double check as he came up from the slide, then he had to be sure he could get off fast enough to outrun the third baseman to third. None of that was easy and it definitely was daring. Congrats Johnny Damon and congrats to the Yanks for another great world series win. One more to go and it will be 27, then Joe’s number has to change

  3. mick-7-1961 - Nov 2, 2009 at 3:57 PM

    No question about it, Rich….he knew exactly what he was going to do. He who hesitates……
    What was Lidge thinking?

  4. MaryMcM - Nov 2, 2009 at 4:23 PM

    Agreed, Damon’s steal of 3rd was a 100% game-changer. Exciting he’s going to be the ‘idiot’ who will be the first man since Babe Ruth to win a World Series as a Red Sox and Yankee. Way to go Johnny, make it happen again tonight!

  5. GpGuy - Nov 2, 2009 at 4:53 PM

    Oops! Paper prints ad congratulating Phillies
    Inquirer apologizes for advertisement celebrating back-to-back Series titles
    There is also a 12.5% chance that they will print this again tomorrow :-)

  6. TF from Tampa - Nov 2, 2009 at 4:57 PM

    Hey MaryMcM, Thats what I’m talkin about!!! Another nail in the coffin of the Red Sux. What a great stat to pick up on. Damon is determined and destined [as all the Yanks are] to finish it out tonight. One question, whats with the ‘idiot’ thing ? You can tell me at the celebration parade down Broadway in NYC next week.

  7. Michael B Pasternack - Nov 2, 2009 at 4:58 PM

    I think it took an amazing amount of guts and talent to make that play. It was such a game changer that when ARod (who the Phillies should be ashamed of themselves for both dirty and dangerous tactics)got up to bat it seemed to me that there was no way he wasn’t going to get a hit. The very look on his face said “If I don’t do anything else for the rest of my life I’m going to bring him in.” A Classic World Series moment.

  8. Matt - Nov 2, 2009 at 5:08 PM

    Damon is definitely having a good year and good post season but let’s not start revising history. Its been four years since he left the Red Sox for the Yankess and until this year he has not lived up to his $52 million dollar contract. So let’s not get crazy about the Red Sox letting him go. They won a WS without him and he was not worth $52 million and still isnt. Last year Yankees fans wanted the guy banished to Siberia. One nice steal does not mean he is the reason the Yankees will win the WS. Signing of Texiera, CC and AJ had a little something to do with their current success, but maybe I’m wrong.
    So should the Red Sox also be mad at themselves for letting Pedro go since he is in the WS with the Phillies?

  9. paul kneisl - Nov 2, 2009 at 5:30 PM

    Yes this IS one of the great plays ever in the WS. Think of the context. The Yankees were up 2-0, then 4-2. Bottom of the eighth the Phillies tie it 4-4. The Phillies are at home. If they win the game the Series is 2-2 and totally up for grabs. The Yankees go 1-2 and almost 3 in the top of the 9th. Damon all but has strike three but foul tips it and the catcher cant come up with it. Under great pressure he gets a hit and gets on. Then he steals 2nd and sees 3rd undefended. If he makes a mistake the Yankee threat is over. When I saw the play live you couldnt see third base in the camera view. I saw him steal 2nd then RUN PAST THE BAG! Whats he doing hes out!? He runs away from the inflieder and Im waiting for the throw to third to nail him. But no ones there! He’s safe on 3rd! Unbelieveable!
    If the Yankees go on to win the Series this play will be remembered by everyone who was involved in it on BOTH sides. For some it will be will awe and wonder and for others there’ll be a lifetime of “what if”.
    Yeah the same thing has happened before but NEVER with so much on the line!

  10. Steven - Nov 2, 2009 at 5:44 PM

    @32 It’s been known since he came up that the way to pitch A-Rod is high and tight. There have been pitchers in the past who put it up under his chin, which might be a little much; the Phillies aren’t doing that. They are pitching him inside a lot, and when you do that you risk hitting the batter. It’s part of the game, and A-Rod hasn’t always made a concerted effort to get out of the way.

  11. mick-7-1961 - Nov 2, 2009 at 6:11 PM

    Ryan Howard, after living a full life, died and went to Heaven.
    When he got to Heaven, God was showing him around. They came to a modest little house with a faded Philly flag in the window.
    “This house is yours for eternity, Ryan”, said God. “This is very special, not everyone gets a house up here.”
    Ryan felt special, indeed and walked up to his house. On the way up, he noticed another house just around the corner. It was a beautiful, 3-story mansion with a blue and white, pinstripe sidewalk, a 50 foot flagpole with an enormous New York Yankee flag and a NY logo in every window.
    Ryan looked at God and said, “God, I’m not trying to be ungrateful, but I have a question. I was a great Home Run hitter, gold-glove first baseman and I made the Hall of Fame.”
    God replied, “So what’s your point, Ryan?”
    “Well, why does Johnny Damon get a better house than me?”
    God chuckled and said, “It’s not Johnny’s house, my son, it’s mine.”

  12. postseason09 - Nov 2, 2009 at 6:18 PM

    I’m tired of everyone calling the Phils “The Champs”. Last year they beat the Ray’s… I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t count…
    I’m sure that if the Red Sox had taken the Ray’s as seriously as the Phils did, they would’ve been “The Champs”, because, no way would the Phils have beaten the Red Sox in 2008.
    Beating a one-hit-wonder like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays doesn’t make you a champion.

  13. Odna Walla - Nov 2, 2009 at 6:31 PM

    Stooooooopid azz, Philles. They sure screwed the pooch in Game 4.

  14. Vince - Nov 2, 2009 at 6:53 PM

    Hey, Damon’s steel was a nice, heads up play. It put the Yankees in position to win the game. But, don’t forget that Yogi said “it ain’t over till it’s over”. There is still baseball to be played. Also, I think Mays and McCovey made the play look better!

  15. tommy - Nov 2, 2009 at 7:44 PM

    Mick: the pitcher covering third base on a stolen base attempt at second is fundamental baseball? The only thing fundamental on a steal of second is for the pitcher to get his head out of the way and hit the deck. It would have been head’s up for Lidge to have covered third, but hardly a fundamental play they teach you in little league.

  16. Jack Smack - Nov 3, 2009 at 2:43 PM

    Hey, if the SHIFT is on, SOMEBODY has to cover 3b on a steal, and that’s the pitcher’s job.
    He doesn’t have to get there, just break toward 3b. If he does, he’ll beat the runner there every time. After all, the runner has to pop up after a slide and then go 90′ and all the pitcher has to do is duck out of the way of the throw, and cover 60′ to 3b.
    If he breaks toward 3b, the runner won’t go.
    Ordinarily, without the shift, all the pitcher has to do is get out of the way of the throw to 2b.

  17. chris w - Dec 19, 2009 at 4:20 PM

    I don’t know if this was one of the 10 “greatest” moments in WS history (the Perfect Game, Reggie’s 3 HR, even the Tino/Brosius HRs on consecutive nights, not to mention Mazeroski, Joe Carter, the Unassisted Triple Play).
    But this was hands down one of the SMARTEST plays in WS history, right up there with the fake Intentional Walk to Johnny Bench in 1972. It was the product not of chance (which Carter or Fisk’s HRs were), it was the product of good, instinctual play and guile. Whether it was more premeditated or more instinctual is sort of irrelevant…”smart” baseball plays are all about positioning and reaction (the “Flip”).
    You know that it’s a smart play because everyone in that stadium was in disbelief of what they’d just seen, not to mention even if we could see 3B on the TV feed, 95% of us wouldn’t have thought anything of it being uncovered and what that meant for what Damon could do.
    Give Damon his due here.

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