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Damon, offense in a funk10/14/2004 2:01 AM ET
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- It was a ferocious battle.
Johnny Damon, his feet dancing, was in the batter's box trying desperately to get something going Wednesday night for the clogged-up Red Sox.
Jon Lieber, who had pitched a meticulous game for the Yankees, kept firing pitch after pitch. Damon kept fouling them off. Finally, on his 16th pitch of the at-bat, Lieber retired Damon on a line drive to center fielder Bernie Williams.
"I actually felt that if I got on base right there, we were going to have a big inning," Damon said.
"It was a good at-bat, but I had to get on some way because [Mark] Bellhorn is a good guy who'll take pitches and work the count -- and of course we had the big bats coming up. That was our biggest chance."
Bellhorn struck out to end the inning. Lieber's pitch count had jumped from a mere 45 in five innings to 69 after six.
But, most importantly, he had won the skirmish.
"Oh, that was definitely one of the keys to this game. Because they're trying any way to get on, make things happen. It all starts with Johnny at the top of that lineup. He makes a lot of things happen," Lieber said.
"That definitely was a tough battle and I'm just glad he hit it to Bernie."
The Red Sox still had just one hit. After six innings against Mike Mussina in Tuesday night's American League Championship Series opener, the Red Sox had no hits, not even a baserunner.
Then they broke loose with a fury, scoring five runs in the seventh inning and throwing a fright into the Yankee Stadium crowd before losing, 10-7. Could the Red Sox do it again, perhaps feeding off Damon's determined at-bat and taking a bite out of a tiring Lieber?
Their hopes rose when David Ortiz lashed a one-out single in the seventh. And they were immediately dashed when Kevin Millar grounded into a double play.
Lieber had them pinned down. Twice the Red Sox got their leadoff batter on base -- Ortiz walked in the second and Orlando Cabrera singled in the third -- but were repelled as Lieber got three straight outs each time. Cabrera got within 90 feet of home plate, but that was it.
"Lieber loves to work quick, get in a rhythm," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We never found a way to get him out of rhythm. There wasn't a whole lot of baserunners."
Just four while Lieber was on the mound.
"He keeps the ball around the strike zone. It seems like he's invented a few pitches since the first time we faced him this year," Damon said. "The last time we faced him here, he was solid. He's been around and he does his homework."
Yankees manager Joe Torre, impressed by Lieber's workmanship, sent him out for the eighth, but Trot Nixon led off with a single. Torre emerged from the dugout to give Lieber an appreciative pat and Tom Gordon the ball.
Jason Varitek lashed a double to right-center field. Perhaps now the Red Sox would ignite another fire against Gordon. Nope. Cabrera rolled out, Nixon scoring, and that would be the only run they'd have in this 3-1 loss.
Aside from that two-inning burst in the opener, Boston's bats have been silent.
"We haven't put both sides together, where we pitch well and hit well," Varitek said.
And down two games to zip, the Red Sox suddenly are running short of time as well as runs. Damon blamed himself.
"No. 1, I've got to get my game going. I'm 0-for-8 in this series with five strikeouts. I'm better than that and they know a good way to beat our team is to stop me and that's exactly what they've been doing," he said.
"As soon as I start swinging, it's going to be a different story."
Going head-to-head in an epic 16-pitch at-bat against Lieber, the premier leadoff man came up short.
"It was a great at-bat for Johnny and he kept throwing strikes," Torre said.
"Lieber walked somebody early and then it just seemed once he settled in, he was just locked in, and he's not going to walk people."
Not even Damon. Not this day.
Finally, though, Damon mustered a slight smile.
"We know we're in a hole," he said. "But even idiots know how to dig themselves out of a hole."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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