NEW YORK -- WWJD? What would Johnny do?
Damon, that is.
In a moment fit for Johnny Damon no matter what side of the rivalry he was on, his Yankees replacement, the underwhelming Curtis Granderson, stood at the plate with a chance to put the Red Sox to bed.
With the bases loaded and no outs, the Yankees trailed by a run at home in the seventh when Granderson faced lefty Jon Lester. Yankees manager Joe Girardi itched to make a move, but with Austin Kearns and Marcus Thames in the starting lineup, he had nowhere to turn.
So he had to rely on Granderson, which is something Girardi is trying to do less and less often. Four pitches later, Granderson had struck out. Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher would fail, too, striking out on six total pitches against reliever Daniel Bard's 99-mph missiles.
Boston would go on to win 2-1, leaving the Red Sox, despite all their broken bones, with a heartbeat. Boston trails the first-place Yankees and second-place Rays, but are just six games from the top after salvaging a split of the four-game series in the Bronx.
Maybe the biggest reason the Yankees have not finished off Boston yet is because they traded their top outfield prospect, Austin Jackson, and let Damon walk. For Jackson and in Damon's place, Granderson has been a colossal failure.
It has gotten to the point that the Yankees essentially gave up Jackson and Damon for a guy who is not even going to play in big playoff games. Granderson is barely a .200 hitter against lefties, so he is sitting against the David Prices, Cliff Lees and Francisco Lirianos in October. Barring injury, Kearns will be in left and Gardner in center for those games.
When Granderson struck out to lead off the ninth, he heard boos from the Yankee Stadium crowd. That happens when you are a $5.5 million platoon player. He is not expected to start Tuesday against Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson and he may not play against lefty Cliff Lee on Wednesday. He only started Monday because the Yankees are in the midst of playing four straight against lefties.
"He is not quite there," Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long said. "He is still trying to get over the hump. I know it is getting late and we are well into August, but the consistency that he is looking for and that I'm looking for, we are still searching for it. We will stay at it and keep working and see if we can find something. It is tough at times to watch him go through the struggles here, but I know only one way to get out of stuff and that is to keep working on it."
In the offseason, Damon's agent Scott Boras and Yankees GM Brian Cashman could not agree on anything. It turned into a huge "he said, he said" war, but ultimately the Yankees keep the players they really want, thus decided to trade for Granderson and offer Damon a pay cut.
In effect, they chose Granderson over Damon. (If Damon had signed, the Yankees might have been worse off, because then Gardner would have spent more time on the bench.)
Damon entered Monday with an on-base percentage approaching .370. Meanwhile, Jackson has cooled some, but he began Monday with a batting average (.307) that matched Granderson's on-base percentage.
Granderson is hitting .240 with 10 homers and 33 RBIs and many fewer at-bats in his future. He did injure his groin, and that has limited him to playing in 86 of the Yankees' 111 games.
"It hasn't been the best," said Granderson, when asked to evaluate his season without factoring how well the team has done. "But just trying to help the team out as best that you can. No matter what has to be done. It is not necessarily going to be the statistical thing. I've never been the statistical type of guy. I'm just trying to help the team out. I haven't been able to be the guy, but at the same time on this team we don't necessarily need that type of guy."
Come October they may miss the type of guy that Damon proved on either side of the rivalry and in last year's championship run. Not only has the 36-year-old Damon established himself in important moments, he just might simply be a better player than the 29-year-old Granderson.
Damon can play against lefties and righties. He entered Monday approaching .300 against lefties.
Still, the Yankees are in control of the AL East. The beauty of a $206 million payroll is that the green can camouflage mistakes. So the Yankees still look headed for the playoffs -- even though they failed to put away the Red Sox on Monday.
"It's never over," Granderson said. "No one's punched a ticket to the playoffs yet."
The Yankees are still extremely well positioned to make it. But when/if they do, someone like the Rays, Rangers and Twins -- with their tough No. 1 starting lefties -- will likely be waiting.
On those days, Granderson will likely have as much of an impact as fans who have their playoff tickets punched.