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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. Jonny - Nov 2, 2009 at 10:28 AM

    Pretty sure that it was Ken Huckaby, not Rod Barajas, who Jeter ran into in 2003.

  2. Howard - Nov 2, 2009 at 10:42 AM

    It was Huckaby. And the Jeter play was a Giambi groundout to Halladay, who threw to first and Jeter tried to go 1st to 3rd on the play. See the top of the 3rd inning here:
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/TOR/TOR200303310.shtml

  3. Dan - Nov 2, 2009 at 10:55 AM

    Jose Reyes once tried to do this (and failed) but the overshift wasn’t on. If I recalled correctly, the 3B was pulled in on a bunt attempt and Reyes thought he called him flatfooted and tried to beat him to the bag; he didn’t.

  4. Chris in Dallas - Nov 2, 2009 at 12:11 PM

    Craig: Here’s the boxscore from Phillips’ feat. Check out the 4th inning.
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/WAS/WAS200708010.shtml

  5. Michael Fiore - Nov 2, 2009 at 12:14 PM

    Willie Mays play was great but it was not the same as Damons if you saw it 1st hand–not even close
    Damons was done on the Grandest of stages which on my list puts him atop WIllie Mays who could have hit a HR in the playoff game had they got there

  6. scatterbrian - Nov 2, 2009 at 12:48 PM

    Here’s Retrosheet:
    YANKEES 3RD: Soriano flied to right; Jeter walked; Giambi hit
    into a double play (pitcher to first) [Jeter out at third (first
    to catcher)]; Jeter tried to go from 1B to 3B when it was
    left uncovered; catcher Huckaby ran to 3B to cover and when he
    fell his shinguard drove into Jeter’s shoulder; after a 12
    minute delay, Jeter taken to hospital with separated shoulderm
    on DL for 6 weeks; 0 R, 0 H, 0 E, 0 LOB. Yankees 1, Blue
    Jays 0.

  7. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Nov 2, 2009 at 12:54 PM

    Oops, apologies for that then Craig. I remembered a similar situation, checked b-ref for a year when Jeter missed a bunch of time, but didn’t dig much more into it.

  8. TF from Tampa - Nov 2, 2009 at 1:11 PM

    OK fellow baseball addicts, after Johnny D’s hard fought winning at bat and ballsey steal of 2nd [with 2 outs] and total heads up taking of 3rd, shows me that we were watching a game changer, a World Series take away any Phillies momemtum game changer. Oh well,
    Just another nail in the coffin for the Red Sox nation and Phillies fanatics.

  9. Dick - Nov 2, 2009 at 1:48 PM

    Sad to see, but it looks as if the Phillies are circling the drain. Anyway,given what the country is facing, the World Series doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

  10. Jennifer - Nov 2, 2009 at 1:55 PM

    Oh come on! Johnny Damon has been terrific in the post season. It was great that he stole third! The Yankees are providing the New York area (at least) with some good old baseball fun. I don’t, however, like the fact that Philly pitchers have been hitting the batters, especially Alex R. That’s dirty play. It would be nice if they were more honorable.

  11. Old Gator - Nov 2, 2009 at 1:59 PM

    Damon’s run did not take place in a vacuum. It was the flip side of a ferocious at-bat that had its own cardiac moments. Whether it had happened before elsewhere or not, it hadn’t happened in the ninth inning of a World Series game. After all, home runs get hit all the time, so what makes Carter’s or Fisk’s great? Yep, it was when they hit the suckers. That, and each generation of fans will always think of the one they saw themselves as the “greatest” in any comparison anyway. I was at Game 6 of the ’77 series so I’ll always think of Reggie’s hat trick as the high point of my career as a fan, but if you think I’m going to get bogged down in an argument over Joe Carter or Kirby Puckett with a Jays or Twins fan, forget it. I already know they’re not going to be any more rational about it than I will be.
    Anyway, comparing a baserunning play (or a combined baserunning play with the duodenum-twisting at bat that set it up) with a complete game nine inning performance or a home run isn’t particularly kosher. That’s like asking whether Don Larsen’s perfect game or Babe Ruth’s called shot (legendary or not, but who cares?) was the greater “moment.” Irrelevant.
    What Damon did last night was a highlight play for the ages, its particular greatness nested in its moment and preserved there like a diamond in a kimberlite pipe. And it doesn’t matter what anyone else did before or what might come next, and next after that.

  12. ofus - Nov 2, 2009 at 2:03 PM

    The Damon play was intellligent baseball – something the Yankees have done well this postseason. Credit certainly to coaches who prep players, but also recognition of vetran players who seize opportunities and make the most of them. Not that NY hasn’t had a few brain cramps themselves, but fewer than everyone else. Late inning production is another sign of the no panic, play 9 full innings attitude that NY has had all year.

  13. brettfarve - Nov 2, 2009 at 2:11 PM

    Oops! Paper prints ad congratulating Phillies
    Inquirer apologizes for advertisement celebrating back-to-back Series titles

  14. mick-7-1961 - Nov 2, 2009 at 2:12 PM

    The Damon ‘double’ steal was THE play of this World Series.
    That’s where smart scouting and paying attention pays off.
    Fundamental baseball…the pitcher ALWAYS covers third just like he backs up the catcher on a throw to home…it’s textbook playing and you learn it in little league.
    9 pitches to Johnny in the 9th? An unbelievabel at-bat. Talking about taking the wind out of one’s sails.

  15. H25 - Nov 2, 2009 at 2:14 PM

    How would that be a ‘nail in the coffin’ The Red Sox humiliated New York in ’04 in ways we will never see in MLB post season ever again. It is still the most incredible choke in the history of the 4 major sports – ever.

  16. Tony D - Nov 2, 2009 at 2:22 PM

    That at bat and the subsequent play will forever make Johnny Damon a true Yankee legend. I have seen many of these and it ranks up there with Bucky, Boone, Jackson, Chambliss, and others
    Johnny Damon was never a Red Sock he will only be remembered as a Yankee now.

  17. Cluck - Nov 2, 2009 at 2:23 PM

    “Johnny D’s hard fought winning at bat and ballsey steal of 2nd [with 2 outs]”
    Sorry I’m a Damon fan (played for the local minor league club) but there is no way his stealing of 2nd was even in the same universe as ballsey. A corpse could steal off of Lidge. Base runners this season have stolen 2nd in 100% of the attempts when Lidge has been on the mound. Larry Anderson (radio color guy) likes to say that nobody gets a single off of Lidge they get a double delayed by a pitch.

  18. Michael Fiore - Nov 2, 2009 at 2:27 PM

    I wouldnt say The Redsox humiliated The Yankees——-maybe if they swept them—the game went 7
    losing after being up 3-0 is humiliating but they didnt get humiliated—-there is a difference

  19. IdahoYank - Nov 2, 2009 at 2:38 PM

    If it was ‘fundamental’ ‘textbook’ ‘little league’ baseball that why was Lidge picking his nose on the mound with 3rd base open? You have to execute in this game. Yankees prove they’re champs in all aspects of the game. It is a joy to watch them

  20. frankievegas - Nov 2, 2009 at 2:43 PM

    if you want to hang your hat on that 1 series the red sux pulled out a series win that is sad, for 1 year the red sux beat the yankees, the yankees have owned the sox for a liftime. everyone talks about the yankee – red sox rilvery as the biggest in sports, to me it has been so one sided it is not even funny, the yankees are the hammer and the red sox are the nail year in and year out, for all of time. that one year that you are talking about the nail bent. big deal. i love hearing all the red sox fan talk about that one year, what a joke. lets talk present, yankees are 1 win away from #27 and the red sox didnt win a game this post season, pretty standard to me. go choke on your clam chowwwdar…..lololololol

  21. TF from Tampa - Nov 2, 2009 at 2:51 PM

    Johnny D’s performance last night shows again “Red Sox lost and Yankees WIN” again & again & again…. Shame on Epstein for letting his lead off hitter get away! And hey, look what its done for Johnny’s image, he’s a clean cut all American kid doing what he loves, playing baseball in New York for the Yanks in the World Series, unlike the Red Sox. Pennent # 27 is going to fly proud in the new stadium.

  22. Cru11 - Nov 2, 2009 at 3:01 PM

    They didn’t humiliate them?? Are you serious? The Yankees were 3 outs away from winning the pennant and the Sox came back and won FOUR, count them FOUR in a row. To throw a a little salt in the yankee wounds, the Sox won the pennant in yankee stadium and celebrated like wild indians on their own field!! IMHO, epitome of humility.

  23. Eddie - Nov 2, 2009 at 3:07 PM

    Too bad it took them 86 years to do it. After all of their game 7 losses over the years, they were bound to do something to reverse it. My hat’s off to them for winning in 2004 and 07. However, the Yanks are still the team of the decade; making them the team of 2 centuries (so far). This is their 4th WS appearance since 2000 and hopefully their 2nd win. They have won a title in every decade since the 1920s except for the 80s (although they made it to the series in 81). Face it…they are the greatest sports franchise ever…period.

  24. TF from Tampa - Nov 2, 2009 at 3:30 PM

    Hey Cluck, this is “The Show” and the World Series at that not some wanabee’s working themselves up to the majors. I pitched in College and some semi-pro afterwards and my catchers backed me up if needed. Lidge and Carlos Ruiz his catcher and backup are Pros and are suppose to get the job done. NO EXCUSES!!! Johnny’s was the man last night, and he’s got the chance to do it again tonight. Ya gotta love him.

  25. Evan - Nov 2, 2009 at 3:38 PM

    The Red Sox were favored to win the 2004 ALCS (Vegas had them winning it in 6 if I recall). The fact that they came back from being down 0-3 is irrelevant.

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