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Damon, Yankees scorch Royals

Damon, Yankees scorch Royals

NEW YORK -- Shortly after Saturday's game, back where it was quiet, a clubhouse attendant handed Johnny Damon an unsightly, rather ugly baseball bat. The reddish-brown handle gave way to a lighter tan barrel, disfigured by numerous stains, nicks and blemishes.

"That's a good thing," Damon said, tucking the bat into a corner of his locker.

He would use it again -- and why not? That unattractive slab of maple not only helped create history on this day, it boosted the Yankees to a 12-11 win over the Royals. Damon, bat in hand, produced half a dozen hits to lead the effort, recharge the Yankees and, ultimately, lead them to victory with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.

And it all started with a rather ordinary, rather ugly maple bat.

Damon had already recorded five hits with that bat when he approached the plate in the bottom of the ninth, with Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera on base. He'd used his previous five at-bats to slap the ball to all corners of the field, but this time he turned on Joakim Soria's pitch and belted it down the right-field line, just feet from foul ground. He sprinted to first, then stopped there as a group of Yankees mobbed him on the field.

"When you've got a day like that, you know it's going to happen," closer Mariano Rivera said. "Somehow it's going to happen. And it did."

Call it luck, fortune or skill -- whatever it was, Damon had it on Saturday. He had shaved his lucky-turned-unlucky mustache prior to the game and jacked his socks up high to try to find a new spark. Then he took that bat and began to hit and hit and hit.

Consider the rarity. Only eight players have produced six hits in a game since the turn of the century, and no Yankee had done it since Myril Hoag back in 1934. Only one other player -- Omar Vizquel in 2004 -- had ever achieved the feat at Yankee Stadium, and no one from the home team had ever done so in the Bronx.

"All these great players that played here didn't do it," Damon said. "I was fortunate to have that opportunity to do it. I'm definitely blessed."

Then consider the significance. The feat marked more than a historic quirk. Three of his hits, in fact, directly led to runs, and the Yankees needed every last run in a game that featured four ties and three lead changes.

Certainly, the Yankees were never quite out of this game, but rarely were they primed to win it. The Royals went ahead in the first inning before Jason Giambi gave the Yankees their first lead with a home run into the right-field upper deck in the fifth. Then the Royals went back ahead in the seventh -- touching starter Andy Pettitte for 10 runs in all -- before the Yankees began their most furious comeback of the night.

Alex Rodriguez provided the fireworks, launching a home run over both Monument Park and the visiting bullpen in left field, and then Damon -- who else? -- tied the game in the eighth inning with his fifth hit of the afternoon.

Yet this game, full of the bizarre, was far from complete. On an afternoon that saw game-time temperatures soar into the 90s and home-plate umpire Jerry Layne hospitalized with a mild concussion sustained after he was hit with a foul tip, the Yankees nearly toppled over from their dizzying momentum.

Noise flushed out of Yankee Stadium in an instant when Rivera entered the game in the ninth inning and served up a home run to David DeJesus on his first pitch.

Everything the Yankees had achieved, and all the comebacks they had amassed, seemed destined for naught. The Yankees were down a run and reduced to three outs.

"I was shocked," manager Joe Girardi said. "Mo is so awesome that any time he gives up a run, you're kind of shocked."

The Royals might have felt the same way about their own closer, Soria, though his fate was ultimately the same. With one out in the ninth inning, Jorge Posada lined a homer to right field to tie the game and set the foundation for Damon's final single.

Several times caught in the clutches of a loss, the Yankees instead hung on for a win.

"To win, I can't tell you how much of a relief it is," Pettitte said. "It just makes it so much easier to swallow, man, when we won that game."

Certainly, a victory such as this one won't cure everything. Though the feel-good vibes were unmistakable -- "Johnny's a very lovable guy," Girardi said -- the fact remains that these Yankees have seen false starts before. They earned an equally dramatic walk-off win on Thursday, in fact, but lost the next night. That could happen again.

So the Yankees might not have history on their side, but in one sense, they do. They have Damon's bat, after all, and he's going to use it until it shatters.

And when that happens, he's going to keep the pieces -- souvenirs of the day when he created history and the Yankees won their wildest game of their season.

"It was pretty amazing," Damon said. "And pretty exhausting."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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