NEW YORK -- It may have been worry, it may have been discipline, it may have merely been routine. But something drove Johnny Damon to spend his Tuesday at Yankee Stadium taking his hacks in a simulated game, when most of his teammates were enjoying their off-day at home.
Whatever it was, it seems to have worked.
Racking up two hits in his first two at-bats of Friday's American League Championship Series Game 1 -- a 4-1 Yankees win over the Angels -- Damon scored twice and sparked his club's offense, something he didn't do at all during last week's AL Division Series against the Twins. After going 1-for-12 in that series, Damon is already 2-for-5 in this one.
"I probably worry a little bit less," manager Joe Girardi said. "You have to remember Johnny is an extremely talented player as well. You don't expect that to carry over. I commend Johnny. Tuesday, he came out when we had the simulated game and got five or six at-bats and hit the ball extremely well. Maybe that helped him get him going."
Damon, so valuable in hitting .282 with a career-high 24 homers almost exclusively out of the two-hole this season, singled and scored in the first inning on Friday before doubling to key a Yankees rally in the fifth.
Afterward, Damon credited his ability to keep his head still while hitting, something he was unable to do during a four-strikeout game against Carl Pavano and the Twins last Sunday.
"It seemed like that game against Pavano, I was just jumping out, trying to hit the pitch in front of me instead of waiting for it to get back," Damon said. "Getting that extra work, I knew I had to get it done."
And now the worry is gone. Perhaps most encouraging was the fact that Damon did not strike out in Friday's game, flying out in the third inning off Angels starter John Lackey, lining out in the sixth and grounding out in the eighth.
Johnny on the spot
After struggling in the ALDS, Johnny Damon broke out with a big game on Friday
Damon also chipped in on defense, making a nifty sliding catch on Bobby Abreu's sharp liner to open the sixth. Just as Damon's offensive outburst helped him forget his 1-for-12 performance in the Division Series, that catch helped him forget a misplay of Brendan Harris' triple in Game 2 of that series. And so just like that, Damon is back to being Damon, having sparked a Yankees club that can always use his help.
Dating back to the 2005 ALDS, when he was with the Red Sox, Damon had been hitting .217 over his past four postseason series. Now, after Game 1, he is on his way to something much more impressive.
"Sometimes in this game, you need to have some luck, but you also need to go out and work hard and try to figure out what went wrong in Game 3," Damon said, referring to his struggles against Pavano. "But I also understand this game in the playoffs, so I was just happy we won that Game 3. I wasn't too terribly upset at myself. But I also knew I had to get in and get my work in and try to get back to the way I swung the bat earlier in the season."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.