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World Series 2001
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10/12/2001 02:00 AM ET
Leach: Damon exhausting Yankee arms
MLB.com
In 10 plate appearances over two games, the Oakland leadoff man has seen an outstanding 53 pitches.
The A's are certainly a different team with Johnny Damon, but Johnny Damon is also a different player with the A's.

Damon has done everything for the A's through two games of the AL Division Series. He had four hits and a walk in the first game, and doubled and tripled in Oakland's second win. And he's done it in part with patience -- a trait he didn't always display in his Kansas City days.

Oakland forced Yankees starter Andy Pettitte to throw 115 pitches in just 6 1/3 innings, knocking him out earlier than New York would have liked. In just four plate appearances, Damon eked 24 of those pitches out of the lefty. His double in the seventh was the final blow, knocking Pettitte out of the game.

In 10 plate appearances over two games, the Oakland leadoff man has seen an outstanding 53 pitches. Of course, that's not all he's done. Damon has six hits and a walk. He's scored two runs, including a key insurance run after tripling in the second game. He's been arguably the best player on the field so far.

Of course, Damon has always gotten on base and scored runs. It's why Oakland wanted to acquire him from the Royals. But he hasn't always been exactly the typical leadoff man, because he hasn't always seen a lot of pitches.

In 2000, his breakout year in Kansas City, Damon saw just 3.55 pitches per plate appearance. His previous high was 3.78 in 1998, and his career average before 2000 was 3.65. But in Oakland, the patience at the plate has been contagious. He averaged a career-best 3.89 P/PA in 2001.

Further, when Damon heated up in the second half (.351 OBP after the All-Star break, versus .301 before), his patience picked up as well. His first-half P/PA in 2001 was 3.84; after the break, 3.96.

Damon has been the perfect leadoff man so far. He's been on base seven times, making just three outs. He's stolen two bases, scored two runs and seen more than five pitches per plate appearance,. Oakland's pitching has been brilliant, but the leadoff man looks like the series MVP right now.

Rally killer

Joe Torre's loyalty is admirable, but it's getting harder and harder to justify Paul O'Neill's presence in the Yankees' lineup. Moving him back up to the No. 3 spot in the order didn't help any on Thursday, either.

O'Neill has ended five innings in this series -- three in Game 1 and two in Game 2. He's stranded five runners in those at-bats. On Thursday night, he had two big chances, one with runners on first and second in the sixth inning, and one with a runner on first in the eighth inning, but couldn't keep the inning going either time.

Time to get creative?

Should this series go four or five games, Torre might want to rethink his starting pitchers. With Orlando Hernandez and Roger Clemens both somewhat questionable due to injuries, Ramiro Mendoza might be a good option.

Mendoza, who relieved Pettitte, shut down the A's for an inning and two thirds, allowing just an intentional walk to Jason Giambi in the seventh and a two-out single to Terrence Long in the eighth. Mendoza has dominated Oakland's best hitters in the regular season as well. Damon, Miguel Tejada, Giambi, Eric Chavez and Jermaine Dye are a combined 13-for-64 (.203) against Mendoza with just two extra-base hits (both doubles).

Matthew Leach is editor-at-large for MLB.com.