(AP) — Johnny Damon became a hated figure among New York Yankees fans after his key grand slam for Boston in the 2004 AL championship series. Those fans eventually came over to Damon’s side during his four seasons with the club, culminating in a strong performance in the postseason last year to help the storied franchise win its 27th championship.
Damon makes his return to the Bronx on Monday night with the Detroit Tigers, who will face their former center fielder Curtis Granderson for the first time in the opener of a four-game series.
New York (72-45) beat Philadelphia in six games in the World Series, and Damon was a key figure. He went 8 for 22 and scored a team-high six runs in the Fall Classic to earn his second ring along with the 2004 one with the Red Sox.
The Yankees, though, acquired Granderson from Detroit (57-60) in a three-team deal in December that sent Austin Jackson to the Tigers. That left little room for Damon, and the two-time All-Star is now splitting time between left field and designated hitter with the Tigers.
Damon signed a $8 million, one-year contract with Detroit after New York opted to let him go.
“I think he’ll get a warm ovation,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told MLB.com. “I think Johnny will have a smile on his face, and it’ll be good to see Johnny. I think it’ll be enjoyable, the first time he’s come back.
“I always thought Johnny had a good relationship with the fans. Johnny’s a very warm human being. I think that people really appreciated him.”
Granderson missed the Yankees’ trip to Detroit from May 10-13 due to a groin injury so this is the first time he will face his former teammates. He’s endured an injury-plagued season, and enters this series in a 7-for-45 slump over his last 15 games.
New York leads Tampa Bay by one game in the AL East, and capped a 3-3 road trip by Sunday’s 1-0 loss at Kansas City. Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 3 against fellow former No. 1 overall draft pick Bryan Bullington one day after he recorded the fourth three-homer game of his career.
Rodriguez leads the majors with 97 RBIs – three more than Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera. The Tigers slugger has hit safely in all 19 regular-season games he has played against New York, batting .371 with four homers and 13 RBIs.
Detroit won two of three over the weekend against the Chicago White Sox, capturing a road series for the first time since May 19-20. The win was overshadowed a bit because starter Armando Galarraga and catcher Alex Avila had to be separated following a heated exchange in the dugout after the first inning.
“Dissension breeds winners,” Damon said. “We should have done it earlier.”
Damon will face the pitcher he hit that grand slam in the 2004 ALCS against in Javier Vazquez (9-8, 4.90), who is 0-1 with a 7.31 ERA in his last three starts. Vazquez gave up six runs over 4 1-3 innings Wednesday in a 7-6 win at Texas.
The right-hander is 6-8 with a 4.36 ERA in 14 career starts against the Tigers. Cabrera is 10 for 26 against Vazquez while Damon is 8 for 24.
The Tigers will counter with Max Scherzer (7-9, 4.03), who has never faced the Yankees. Scherzer is 0-2 over his last four outings despite a 2.42 ERA.
The right-hander yielded two runs over seven innings last Tuesday in an 8-0 loss to Tampa Bay.
Updated August 15, 2010
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