Damon: 'I'm still the same guy'

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Damon: 'I'm still the same guy'

BOSTON Johnny Damon sat in the visitor's dugout at Fenway Park before Thursday night's game against his former Red Sox club, mohawk intact and sleeveless t-shirt that read, "There's no safety on these guns," with arrows pointing to his arms.

Since his final season season with the Red Sox in 2005, Damon hasn't changed at all. He even pointed that out himself.

"I'm still the nice, big-smiling guy who still enjoys what he's doing," he said before leading off and playing left field for the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night.

Like his previous returns to Fenway, Damon expects to hear some boos. He also expects some to remember that he was a major part of the Red Sox first championship in 86 years.

"I think there's fans out there who do cheer for me and who do really enjoy what I've brought to the table here," he said. "But fans are going to boo me. I think Reggie Jackson said it best, 'Fans don't boo nobodies.' And they know that I can go out there and do some damage and help my team win.

"I get booed everywhere, so, I'm used to it. I've been loved and hated everywhere, but I'm still the same guy."

Damon signed with the Indians in April. He's gone 5-for-30 with zero home runs and two RBI in eight games (all in the month of May). That's a .167 average. And he admits he's not swinging the bat well. So right now, 3,000 hits seems like a tall task, even just 272 hits away from the milestone.

"If it happens, it happens," said Damon. "With the way I'm swinging the bat right now, it'll probably take a good 10 years."

Damon doesn't know where that 3,000th hit will take place, if it does happen. But he doesn't seem to be ready to call it quits anytime soon.

"I was sitting at home, staying in shape, hitting every now and then," he said, while acknowledging that he never was approached by the Red Sox. "But yeah, I was ready to answer anybody's call. I knew if I sat at home for a little bit longer, I just may not leave. But I didn't want to have any regrets. And when they called me, I thought about it for a couple of days. And then I jumped on it. I didn't want to sit around a year from now, saying what could have been or should have happened."

Damon said he was never approached by the Red Sox about a contract for this season. And while he reminisced before Thursday's game, he also said that playing for Boston felt like a long time ago.

"It seems like it's been a while," said Damon. "We're on seven years now? Yup, seven, and it seems like a long time ago. I know a lot of players that have come and gone since then.

"It's strange, especially since I left this team and how many more teams I ended up playing for. I never really envisioned this, on my seventh team now. But you've got to do what you've got to do. I wanted to keep on playing, and playing brought me to Cleveland this year. And hopefully we can keep playing well. And hopefully I can get my bat going."

Damon's Indians enter the series with a two-game lead over the Detroit Tigers for first place in the American League Central. Their 17 wins is five more than what the Red Sox currently have in the win column.

He said he's not surprised with the way the last-place Red Sox have started, because he knows they'll turn it around in a 162-game season.

"They're notoriously a slow-starting team," said Damon. "Everybody knows they're a good team. They just have to find their way. Hopefully it's not during this weekend. But, they have talent there. So, it's just a matter of time."

As for the rest of his time with the Indians, Damon knows that once Grady Sizemore returns from back surgery in June, there will be a battle for playing time in the outfield. He hopes he can improve his .167 batting average before then, so that he won't be on the outside looking in.

"Hopefully I'm doing well enough so I can warrant to still get some playing time and play. But I also know the dynamic that Grady Sizemore does bring. And we'll really have to wait and see. I'm sure if I'm hitting like I am right now, there's really not too many places to go.

"But that being said, when Grady does get in the mix, I think it can be a nice rotation. Right now, I'm playing a lot out there . . . When Grady does get here, it will be interesting to see what happens."

Felger on Ortiz: ‘He keeps passing the tests’

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Felger on Ortiz: ‘He keeps passing the tests’

Major League Baseball is reportedly set to release more PED testing results, but Mike Felger is growing increasingly more confident in the fact that David Ortiz is clean. He's passing all the tests, isn't he?

McAdam: More firsts for Ortiz in what looks like stellar final season

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McAdam: More firsts for Ortiz in what looks like stellar final season

CHICAGO -- It could happen Thursday night, or perhaps sometime this weekend in New York, where he always hits well.
      
But sometime soon, David Ortiz is going to tie, then surpass, Carl Yastrzesmski as the second-greatest home run hitter in Red Sox history.
      
Ortiz hit his sixth of the season Wednesday night, giving him 451 for his Red Sox career, one behind Yastrzemski. Ted Williams is, of course, the Red Sox' all-time leader with 521, safely out of reach.
      
"Know what happens when that's happening?'' asked Ortiz, when told of the approaching milestone. "I'm getting old, man. Like I always say, whenever they mention your name right next to the legends, it's something that, humbly I can tell you, is an honor.''
      
What makes Ortiz's spot on the list all the more amazing is that he has reached these heights after being discarded by the Minnesota Twins some 14 years ago.
      
He arrived as a backup first baseman, initially stuck behind Jeremy Giambi on the Red Sox depth chart. He'll retire, later this year, as one of the handful of best hitters the franchise has ever known.
      
On nights like Wednesday, the context seemed to have Ortiz himself in awe.
      
"I was just a guy who was trying to have a good career,'' said Ortiz, “and put (my) family in a better situation. Now, all of a sudden, these things are happening. It's a blessing.''
      
It's a stretch to suggest that these things are happening "all of a sudden.'' To the contrary, they're the result of a remarkable stretch of 14 seasons in Boston.
     
Only now are the numbers coming into focus. And what numbers they are.
      
Beyond Ortiz's ascension on the all-time lists for the both Major League Baseball and the Red Sox in particular are the improbable feats of a 40-year-old who is performing this season at a level that would be impressive for a hitter a decade younger.
      
Consider:
      
* When Ortiz homered off Yankees reliever Dellin Betances last Friday, he did so on a first-pitch curveball. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated noted that Betances had thrown 355 first-pitch curveballs in his career; Ortiz was the first to hit a homer on one of those pitches.
      
In fact, only six of the first 355 had even been put in play.
      
Ortiz hit his well into the Monster Seats to snap a 2-2 tie and send the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory.
      
* On Wednesday night, Ortiz became the first lefthanded hitter to ever homer off White Sox lefty starter Carlos Rodon.
      
Since last July 2, Ortiz is third among all lefthanded hitters in hitting homers off lefthanded pitchers. That's quite an accomplishment for someone who was being benched as recently as last June against some lefty starters.
     
And what did Rodon learn about that particular showdown?
      
"Don't throw a fastball down the middle to Big Papi,'' said Rodon.
      
Sounds like a good strategy.
      
It's fairly amazing that a 40-year-old, in his final season, is enjoying all these firsts. But Ortiz has lasted this long, and played at such a high level, precisely because he works to get better all the time.
      
Manager John Farrell noted that Ortiz hadn't faced Rodon before Wednesday night and didn't look particularly good in his first two at-bats, grounding into a double play and hitting a flyout.
      
But Ortiz is forever making mental notes, getting ready to make adjustments and process what he's seen.
      
"His retention is great,'' marveled Farrell. "He understands what he's seeing after just one at-bat.''
      
There's still more than five months to go in the regular season and a lot can happen in that span. But after a month in 2016, it seems likely that we are in the midst of one of the greatest final seasons a player has ever enjoyed.