Streaky Damon back in a groove
Slugger has two homers in two games after long drought
ANAHEIM -- His bat had lost its power, almost inexplicably. And just like that, some kind of switch went on for Johnny Damon. In Games 3 and 4 of this American League Championship Series, the ball jumped off his bat and over the wall.
Two home runs in two games for Damon. This, after the Yankees' left fielder had gone 120 at-bats since last clearing the fence on Aug. 30.
Kind of like a strong gust of wind, the long ball is something that can come and go for Damon. When it is there, it is a big thing for New York.
"He's getting to that point where he's getting hot," said Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher. "It's good to have him really stroking it in the two-hole. During the season, he was Player of the Week one week. He hit like six or seven home runs in that one week. It just goes to show you, when he gets hot, it's tough to contain him."
Damon felt all too contained down the stretch, hitting .225 from Sept. 1 through Game 3 of the AL Division Series.
"I just knew that the swing wasn't there," said Damon. "In the past, I kind of knew when the home run stroke was there because I wasn't missing pitches. I got into two pretty good streaks this year. Normally I run into one good streak of knowing that I can hit a home run on almost any pitch. I ran into two this year. Hopefully this is a third."
The strange thing about Damon's drought is that he had tied his career high for homers in a season with No. 24 on Aug. 30. That gave him more than a month to set a personal best. Instead, he finished with the same 24 he roped in 2006, his first season with the Yankees.
Was Damon pressing too hard to get that one homer that eluded him?
"No," Damon said. "I just wanted to have a good swing. I would have loved to have hit more home runs. It just wasn't happening for me."
The one thing that never changes about Damon is his even-keeled approach. It served him well five Octobers ago when he was playing for the Red Sox. Stuck in a brutal slump through the first six games of the ALCS against the Yankees, Damon unloaded for two homers and six RBIs to lift Boston to a 10-3 victory in Game 7. In Game 4 of the World Series against the Cardinals, Damon led the game off with a home run, and the Red Sox clinched their first championship in 86 years later that night.
He knows that the payoff for the end of a slump is that he can suddenly get as hot as he was cold.
"I think I just had to sit back and I understand the slumps," said Damon. "I understand the 1-for-12s. The thing is, it didn't cost us -- fortunately. I understand what kind of player I am. I know I'm pretty good. I can't doubt that. You have to go in with that positive attitude and say you could get the job done. So far it's been OK. Obviously, I wish I could be doing better, but we'll take where we're at right now."
Where the Yankees are at right now is a mere win from the World Series. They have a 3-1 lead over the Angels in the ALCS, entering Thursday's Game 5 at 7:57 p.m. ET.
When Damon left the Red Sox and signed with New York prior to the 2006 season, he figured he'd be on the precipice of another World Series berth long before 2009. But he's savoring the opportunity his team has right now.
At the same time, he refuses to look ahead until the ALCS is complete.
"Not yet," said Damon. "We didn't come out to win three games in a series and be happy about it. We'll be happy if we get that fourth win. That's why we're here practicing today and we're going to go out and have a great practice. There's not going to be going through the motions or anything. We still have a job to do. Hopefully it happens [Thursday] night. If not, hopefully it happens soon after."
Damon learned five years ago what it's like to go on a magical October run. That year, his team won 11 games. These Yankees are five away from that magic number.
"Our perspective is to keep working, and working hard," Damon said. "We have an opportunity to do something special. There's about two more weeks left in the season that you kind of have to go full bore. That's what we're hoping for. We're hoping for two weeks. There's no reason for us to not give it our all. After that, there's going to be a long vacation so we can catch up on our rest and all that stuff during that time."
Until that time, Damon hopes that the recent spark he has found turns into one of those sustained grooves he's enjoyed so many times before.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.