Damon confirms he was claimed by Red Sox; hasn't decided if he'll return

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Damon confirms he was claimed by Red Sox; hasn't decided if he'll return

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

A few weeks ago, the question was whether or not Johnny Damon would be cheered when he returned to Boston in something other than a Yankee uniform. Alas, he got hurt, missed the entire weekend series between the Sox and Tigers, and it remained a mystery.

But how about if he came back in a Red Sox uniform?

That once-unthinkable scenario took on life Monday afternoon when the Sox claimed Damon on waivers from the Tigers, starting the clock ticking on a 48-hour period in which the teams must reach agreement on a trade . . . and a period in which Damon must waive a clause in his contract prohibiting a trade to Boston. The news was originally reported by Jon Heyman of SI.com, and confirmed by Damon to the Detroit media.

"Right now, I'm not sure I want to leave Detroit," Damon told the media there on Monday afternoon, as quoted by Tom Gage in the Detroit News. "That's what is good about having time to make a decision. "But it feels weird. It's a pretty awkward decision -- probably tougher now to go back to Boston than it was leave Boston to go to New York. "At this moment I'm not sure I want to leave Detroit for that. I'll have to think long and hard about it. "I had a great time playing there, but once it became apparent that I wasn't a necessity to re-sign there, it started to get ugly. "I have to think about if once again I'll be probably one of the nicest guys in baseball in the opinion of the fans in Boston but also the most hated guy in baseball in the opinion of the fans in New York. That's what it boils down to." If he listens to some his ex-teammates, he'll be on the next plane East.
"Yeaahaa! Party like a rock star!" said David Ortiz, who then turned serious about possible closure for Damon with the Sox fan baseafter being treated like the baseball version of Judas in subsequent trips to Fenway Park after the 2005 season."I'm pretty sureif he decided to come back . . . he could put it all back together with the fans. They can forget about the Yankees thing," said Ortiz.
"I'm going to call him right now. Let me call him right now. Everybody knows what kind of player Johnny is, so he definitely would bring some excitement around here."The Sox -- who, because they're lower in the standings than Tampa Bay and New York, got a shot at claiming Damon before either of those teams -- may simply be attempting to block Damon from getting to the Rays or the Yankees, both of whom presumably would have interest. But that didn't stop his ex-teammates from getting excited about the possibility of being reunited.

"I think it would be great," Tim Wakefield told Alex Speier of WEEI.com. "Obviously, with outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron out probably for the rest of the year, if we're going to make a push for the postseason, he'd be a great addition.

"He knows how to play here. He was a huge fan favorite here. It would be great for the city of Boston and great for him."

Jason Varitek called Damon "a special player" and -- while he called his potential return "wishful thinking right now" -- added "Johnny knows how I feel about him" and said he "might" make a call to try and convince him to come back.

Damon -- with his carefree spirit and long, flowing hair -- was the much-beloved symbol of the Cowboy UpIdiots version of the Red Sox that broke Boston's 86-year World Series drought in 2004. He was a solid defensive center fielder and an offensive force at the top of the order, posting an OPS-plus of over 100 in three of his four seasons with the Sox. He batted over .300 twice, scored more than 100 runs every year, and seemed as indispensable a cog as there was on the Sox.

But when his contract expired at the end of the 2005 season, the Sox front office was in disarray after the surprise (and, as it turned out, temporary) resignation of general manager Theo Epstein, and Damon's negotiations seemed to get lost in the shuffle. Damon became irritated with the pace of the talks and unhappy with the team's four-year, 40 million offer. When the Yankees swooped in with a take-it-or-leave-it-RIGHT-NOW bid of four years and 52 million -- with the stipulation that Damon and his agent, Scott Boras, couldn't take it back to the Red Sox for them to match or top -- he accepted.

And, in the process, become Public Enemy Number One hereabouts.

The move was a gut-wrenching one for Damon, and he later said he and his family cried over the prospect of leaving Boston. But he'd made the mistake of saying he'd "never" sign with the Yankees in a May 2005 interview with mlb.com, "even if they offer more money" . . . and when he wound up doing exactly that, fans locally erupted in fury.

Sox fans savagely booed Damon when he returned to Fenway Park for the first time with the Yankees in May 2006, and never let up during his four years with New York. It wasn't so much that he'd left -- after all, many members of the 2004 champions were gone by '06, and all of them were greeted warmly when they came back to Fenway -- but that he'd left to go to the Yankees. That Damon eventually embraced the Yankee culture and talked about how much he loved it in New York only made it worse.

But he and the Yanks parted ways last offseason, in much the same clumsy way Damon left the Red Sox, and he wound up signing a one-year contract with the Tigers at the beginning of spring training. Speculation was that Damon in Detroit was far less onerous than Damon in New York, and that he'd be re-embraced -- or at least not virulently hated -- by the fans in Boston this year.

Now he may be back on their side.

The injury-ravaged Sox could use him. He's hitting .270 with a .355 on-base percentage in 111 games so far this year and could provide the lineup with a much-needed bat. He's no longer an adequate center fielder, but he could play left field. And his return would provide closure to a sadly ruptured relationship.

But will he agree to come back? And can the sides agree on a trade?

Stay tuned.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

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Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.

Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

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Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

CHICAGO — More than anything else, Monday’s 5-4 Red Sox loss was a reminder of how much the Red Sox had go right for them a year ago, and just how unrealistic it was to expect so much of it to carry over into 2017.

The Red Sox remain a very good team. But the success of last year’s 93-win team, of any 93-win team is, truly, difficult to replicate. Unlikely, even.

Baseball’s age of parity, the randomness of freak injuries, good old regression — the Sox were due for some elements to catch up to them after a season that was more or less golden in 2016.

Dustin Pedroia, who headed back to Boston on Monday for an MRI on his left wrist, was healthy enough to hit 15 home runs a year ago, his highest total since 2012. The way this year is going for him health-wise, just having him on the field and hitting close to .300 sounds like a worthwhile goal the rest of the way.

(Slides are Pedroia’s enemy, be it from an oncoming base runner, like Manny Machado, or an oncoming first baseman, like Jose Abreu.)

David Price wasn’t living David Price’s best baseball life a year ago. But you know what you can, and probably do, take for granted? He was healthy and devouring innings. He cleared more frames than anyone else in the regular season. Even when he wasn’t pitching well, he could pitch and pitch and pitch. 

Jackie Bradley Jr. had a 1.001 OPS at the end of play on May 29, 2016. His OPS after play May 29, 2017, was .670.

We know how special David Ortiz was. Let’s not go there, because it seems like no one can talk about Ortiz’s absence rationally. His exit did not suck every home run out of the Sox lineup, as many like to say is the case, but he is — of course — a big missing piece.

Not everything was perfect in 2016, lest we remember our ex-girlfriends too fondly. Carson Smith went for Tommy John surgery, for example. 

But look now: Smith still isn’t back, Tyler Thornburg is a mystery if not quiet yet an afterthought and Robbie Ross Jr. not only struggled to the point he was demoted, he’s going through elbow trouble.

Rick Porcello won the American League Cy Young, much to Kate Upton’s chagrin. Porcello will not win the Cy Young this year, if you hadn’t been paying attention, although Chris Sale might.

There’s something going well for the Sox right now: that Sale guy. The bullpen coughed up the game Monday, Matt Barnes in particular. Yet Sox relievers had the fifth best ERA of any team to start the day. 

Hey, Eduardo Rodriguez looks pretty good, doesn't he?

With some downward trends have come some positives. Craig Kimbrel's on another planet.

The Sox may still be a 90-win team. Again, they remain a very good club.

But the wins, the breaks aren’t coming as easily as they did a year ago. You should never have expected they would.