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Lighter Damon helps quash Red Sox

Lighter Damon helps quash Red Sox

NEW YORK -- Johnny Damon sprayed the ball from the batter's box, snuck around the basepaths and may have lit a fire under the Yankees offense on Monday.

Criticized for lacking aggressiveness as of late, the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 6-2, as Damon helped lead the pinstriped lineup to an important victory.

No, he didn't discover some potion that cured all of his former ailments. Nor did he shake a horseshoe or throw salt over his shoulder. Nope, he just watched his weight.

"Well, son of a gun, I'm lighter now than I've been in six years in the game, about 206 [pounds]," Damon said. "I've been working hard and trying to make sure I can keep my legs healthy, and if it means I have to be lighter, so be it."

The Yankees center fielder played the past few seasons in the 215-216 weight range. But now, after countless exercises and staying away from "the bad stuff" -- meaning empty calories -- Damon has shed a few pounds.

In fact, if you looked hard enough, you could see it in Monday's win over Boston. At least manager Joe Torre did.

"[You could see it in] his legs, his bat," the manager said, "he really had a lot of life in his body."

Damon went 3-for-4 at the plate, swiped two bases and scored a run, not to mention draw the attention of Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield in the first inning with Alex Rodriguez at the plate.

As the knuckleballer kept an eye on Damon, A-Rod became Priority No. 2, a mistake that revealed itself in the form of a homer to left-center field on the first pitch.

That's Damon at his best, Derek Jeter said -- drawing glances from pitchers and causing that extra bead of sweat to form around the bill of their caps.

"Johnny can be annoying," Jeter said. "When he gets on, he's a pest. The more he gets on, the better we're going to be."

That statement has rung true for two games now, as the Yankees beat the Mets and Red Sox on consecutive nights. Damon said he'll have to continue this type of play for the Yankees to turn around a dismal start to the season, which finds them 9 1/2 games back in the American League East.

His night probably couldn't have come against a more perfect opponent. Damon signed with the Yankees after winning a championship with the Red Sox in 2004, but the outfielder doesn't feel he has to prove anything.

"There's nothing I need to do to prove myself to that team," Damon said. "I go out and I play, and they know that, my team knows that, and the rest of the league knows it."

Damon said his legs felt better than they have in recent games, a good sign considering he suffered injuries that prompted him to say earlier this season that he could barely walk.

You wouldn't have thought of him as a hobbled player after seeing him Monday. After the game, Damon hinted that his current weight and conditioning routines could be the key to many more productive seasons.

"I'm going to have to be lighter and quicker," he said, "but just as strong."

Caleb Breakey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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