Damon sparking Yanks with red-hot bat
Slugger in midst of 10-game streak with extra-base hit, run
TORONTO -- Johnny Damon has come through often early this season for the Yankees, stepping up to lead the offense at a time when it has needed his help the most.
Damon has hit safely in 10 straight games through Thursday's series finale at Rogers Centre, owning an extra-base hit in each of those games. He is the only player in the Major Leagues to collect such a streak this season.
The 35-year-old has also scored at least one run in each of those 10 games, marking Damon's longest such stretch since scoring at least one run in 12 straight games from Aug. 17-30, 2006. Entering Thursday, he was hitting .425 (17-for-40) with six doubles, a triple, five home runs and 16 RBIs during the span.
The record for consecutive games with an extra-base hit is 14, a mark shared by the Pirates' Paul Waner -- who did it from June 6-20, 1927 -- and the Braves' Chipper Jones -- who accomplished the feat from July 1-16, 2006.
Damon's extra-base streak is the longest in the big leagues since the Phillies' Chase Utley had a nine-game string last year. Damon has equaled a Yankees' club record previously shared by Don Mattingly (1987) and Paul O'Neill (2001).
"I'm focused right now on getting leverage and lift on the ball, kind of like it was last September," Damon said. "In September, I started the month with nine home runs and finished with 17, so I actually found my home run swing later in the season last year. I'll take it."
While Damon has gone on hitting tears before, his timing could not be much better. Last week's American League Player of the Week has paced a ravaged lineup that has been missing Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui this week, as well as nursing Alex Rodriguez back to big league speed and carrying the slumping Mark Teixeira.
"He's been big late in games for us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It seems like every time we get him up late in the game, he comes up with the big hit. He's one of the guys you like to see up there."
Damon said the key is that he and hitting coach Kevin Long "found something" recently in Damon's swing. In technical terms, Damon has found a better way to adjust his balance and attack the ball with plate coverage. The results are hard to ignore.
The extra-base hit streak started with a two-run homer off Boston's Jon Lester on May 4 in New York, and he added a three-run shot the next day facing Josh Beckett -- the Yankees' only runs in a 7-3 loss, as the Red Sox swept the two-game series.
Welcoming the Rays to town May 6, Damon logged a sixth-inning double off Andy Sonnanstine and another rainy two-base hit in the 10th inning off Troy Percival. He then hit a game-tying homer and also doubled May 7 as part of a four-hit, four-RBI performance at Yankee Stadium.
"I'd sure like to keep taking advantage of that right-field porch," Damon said.
Damon stroked a seventh-inning double in the Yankees' win Friday to open a series at Baltimore, homering in the final two games of that series -- a two-run shot in Saturday's loss and a game-winning three-run blast Sunday to get starter Joba Chamberlain off the hook.
"Johnny has won games for us, and he's given us opportunities to win games because of his big hits late in games," Girardi said. "It's something we really need."
The whirlwind week has continued north of the border, where Damon went 2-for-4 with a double to open the series against Toronto before doubling and tripling in New York's 8-2 victory Wednesday. He doubled in his first at-bat of the series finale Thursday and scored the Yankees' first run when Nick Swisher walked with the bases loaded.
In his final year under contract with the Yankees, Damon said he feels he has proved a point coming to New York after whispers circulated that he might be at the tail end of his career when leaving the Red Sox after the 2005 season.
"I always felt like I had a lot of baseball to give," Damon said. "Unfortunately, teams look at computers and then you start hearing things. A couple of years ago, I think everyone was saying, 'Oh, he's getting too old.'
"It starts creeping in your mind a little bit. I got past that stage, and I feel like I've been very blessed as far as being healthy for most of my career."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.