Red Sox

Damon confirms he was claimed by Red Sox; hasn't decided if he'll return

191542.jpg

Damon confirms he was claimed by Red Sox; hasn't decided if he'll return

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

A few weeks ago, the question was whether or not Johnny Damon would be cheered when he returned to Boston in something other than a Yankee uniform. Alas, he got hurt, missed the entire weekend series between the Sox and Tigers, and it remained a mystery.

But how about if he came back in a Red Sox uniform?

That once-unthinkable scenario took on life Monday afternoon when the Sox claimed Damon on waivers from the Tigers, starting the clock ticking on a 48-hour period in which the teams must reach agreement on a trade . . . and a period in which Damon must waive a clause in his contract prohibiting a trade to Boston. The news was originally reported by Jon Heyman of SI.com, and confirmed by Damon to the Detroit media.

"Right now, I'm not sure I want to leave Detroit," Damon told the media there on Monday afternoon, as quoted by Tom Gage in the Detroit News. "That's what is good about having time to make a decision. "But it feels weird. It's a pretty awkward decision -- probably tougher now to go back to Boston than it was leave Boston to go to New York. "At this moment I'm not sure I want to leave Detroit for that. I'll have to think long and hard about it. "I had a great time playing there, but once it became apparent that I wasn't a necessity to re-sign there, it started to get ugly. "I have to think about if once again I'll be probably one of the nicest guys in baseball in the opinion of the fans in Boston but also the most hated guy in baseball in the opinion of the fans in New York. That's what it boils down to." If he listens to some his ex-teammates, he'll be on the next plane East.
"Yeaahaa! Party like a rock star!" said David Ortiz, who then turned serious about possible closure for Damon with the Sox fan baseafter being treated like the baseball version of Judas in subsequent trips to Fenway Park after the 2005 season."I'm pretty sureif he decided to come back . . . he could put it all back together with the fans. They can forget about the Yankees thing," said Ortiz.
"I'm going to call him right now. Let me call him right now. Everybody knows what kind of player Johnny is, so he definitely would bring some excitement around here."The Sox -- who, because they're lower in the standings than Tampa Bay and New York, got a shot at claiming Damon before either of those teams -- may simply be attempting to block Damon from getting to the Rays or the Yankees, both of whom presumably would have interest. But that didn't stop his ex-teammates from getting excited about the possibility of being reunited.

"I think it would be great," Tim Wakefield told Alex Speier of WEEI.com. "Obviously, with outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron out probably for the rest of the year, if we're going to make a push for the postseason, he'd be a great addition.

"He knows how to play here. He was a huge fan favorite here. It would be great for the city of Boston and great for him."

Jason Varitek called Damon "a special player" and -- while he called his potential return "wishful thinking right now" -- added "Johnny knows how I feel about him" and said he "might" make a call to try and convince him to come back.

Damon -- with his carefree spirit and long, flowing hair -- was the much-beloved symbol of the Cowboy UpIdiots version of the Red Sox that broke Boston's 86-year World Series drought in 2004. He was a solid defensive center fielder and an offensive force at the top of the order, posting an OPS-plus of over 100 in three of his four seasons with the Sox. He batted over .300 twice, scored more than 100 runs every year, and seemed as indispensable a cog as there was on the Sox.

But when his contract expired at the end of the 2005 season, the Sox front office was in disarray after the surprise (and, as it turned out, temporary) resignation of general manager Theo Epstein, and Damon's negotiations seemed to get lost in the shuffle. Damon became irritated with the pace of the talks and unhappy with the team's four-year, 40 million offer. When the Yankees swooped in with a take-it-or-leave-it-RIGHT-NOW bid of four years and 52 million -- with the stipulation that Damon and his agent, Scott Boras, couldn't take it back to the Red Sox for them to match or top -- he accepted.

And, in the process, become Public Enemy Number One hereabouts.

The move was a gut-wrenching one for Damon, and he later said he and his family cried over the prospect of leaving Boston. But he'd made the mistake of saying he'd "never" sign with the Yankees in a May 2005 interview with mlb.com, "even if they offer more money" . . . and when he wound up doing exactly that, fans locally erupted in fury.

Sox fans savagely booed Damon when he returned to Fenway Park for the first time with the Yankees in May 2006, and never let up during his four years with New York. It wasn't so much that he'd left -- after all, many members of the 2004 champions were gone by '06, and all of them were greeted warmly when they came back to Fenway -- but that he'd left to go to the Yankees. That Damon eventually embraced the Yankee culture and talked about how much he loved it in New York only made it worse.

But he and the Yanks parted ways last offseason, in much the same clumsy way Damon left the Red Sox, and he wound up signing a one-year contract with the Tigers at the beginning of spring training. Speculation was that Damon in Detroit was far less onerous than Damon in New York, and that he'd be re-embraced -- or at least not virulently hated -- by the fans in Boston this year.

Now he may be back on their side.

The injury-ravaged Sox could use him. He's hitting .270 with a .355 on-base percentage in 111 games so far this year and could provide the lineup with a much-needed bat. He's no longer an adequate center fielder, but he could play left field. And his return would provide closure to a sadly ruptured relationship.

But will he agree to come back? And can the sides agree on a trade?

Stay tuned.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

ALCS: Judge, Sabathia help Yankees beat Astros, 8-1

yankees_aaron_judge_catch_101617.jpg

ALCS: Judge, Sabathia help Yankees beat Astros, 8-1

NEW YORK - Aaron Judge hit a three-run homer and a made pair of sparkling catches, leading CC Sabathia and the Yankees over the Houston Astros 8-1 Monday night and cutting New York's deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series.

Sabathia allowed three hits over six scoreless innings for his first postseason win in five years. Todd Frazier hit a go-ahead, three-run homer for the Yankees, who stopped a seven-game ALCS losing streak dating to Sabathia's victory over Texas in 2010.

Sonny Gray starts Game 4 Wednesday on 11 days' rest, likely against Brad Peacock or Lance McCullers Jr.

Back in the Bronx after a pair of 2-1 losses in Houston, the Yankees led 8-0 after four innings. Houston scored on a bases-loaded walk in the ninth before postseason star Jose Altuve grounded into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Brad Ausmus interviews with Red Sox, but Alex Cora appears frontrunner

Brad Ausmus interviews with Red Sox, but Alex Cora appears frontrunner

BOSTON — Brad Ausmus was the second person to interview to replace John Farrell as Red Sox manager, baseball sources confirmed Monday afternoon. The Sox are expected to interview Ron Gardenhire, the Diamondbacks' bench coach, as well.

But the net might not be cast too wide. More and more, it sounds like the Sox already know whom they want.

Astros bench coach Alex Cora, who met with Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in New York on Sunday, appears the frontrunner to take the reins next year. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal has reported that to be the case multiple times, and for some inside the Sox organization, that's a growing feeling as well.

MORE:

The criteria the Sox value most isn't hard to guess: a strong connection with players, an ability to incorporate data and analytics; and someone who can handle the market.

"I knew Alex for a couple of years before getting a chance to work with him and had tried to recruit him to work a few years ago and he had other options," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Monday in New York, before Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. "To watch him develop relationships with the players, he's all about baseball. He's all about the competition and small advantages within the game, one of the brightest baseball intellects that I've been around. And to see him pass some of that on and transition from player to TV personality to coach, he's had a ton of impact.

"He challenges people. He challenges me. He's someone who's all about winning. And I think to watch our players respond to him, he's got a lot of respect in that clubhouse because of the work he puts in and the attention to detail that he brings. That's why he's the hottest managerial candidate on the planet and deservedly so."

Cora joined the Astros before this season.

Ausmus, whom Dombrowski hired in Detroit ahead of the 2014 season, grew up in Connecticut and went to Dartmouth. The 48-year-old spent 18 seasons as a big-league catcher, the last in 2010. He was working for the Padres before Dombrowski gave him his first shot at managing the Tigers. 

Ausmus went 314-332 in four years managing the Tigers, a more veteran team than might have been ideal for him as a first-time manager.

Ausmus pulled out of the running to interview with the Mets, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag while Cora was expected to interview with the Mets on Monday or Tuesday, per the New York Post's Mike Puma.

What could change from here? One baseball source indicated a second interview with Cora was expected. Asked if he plans a second round of interviews generally, Dombrowski did not say.

"We have started the interview process," Dombrowski wrote via email. "I do not have any specific time frames at this point. Will wait and evaluate as we go through the process."

The Boston Herald's Chad Jennings first reported Ausmus' interview.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE