ANAHEIM -- You probably know that the New York Yankees hit their best in the late innings. Here's a little chart that shows the numbers of the Yankees offense this season:
• Innings 1-3: .279 average, .346 on-base, .452 slugging.• Innings 4-6: .279 average, .361 on-base, .474 slugging.• Innings 7-9: .295 average, .379 on-base, .511 slugging.
It played out this way again on Tuesday in Anaheim. The Yankees plodded around the first three innings and didn't score a run. They scored five in the middle innings -- Alex Rodriguez hit another homer -- to put the Angels in a deep hole. And in the last three innings they went berserk, scored five more runs they didn't even need, gave themselves an easy 10-1 victory and a 3 games to 1 stranglehold on this American League Championship Series. The Yankees are relentless in those later innings.
Now, many people will tell you that this has something to do with the Yankees' grit, their determination, their ability to rise to the occasion and perform when the chips are down and raise their own game in the clutch moments and summon the ghosts of Yankees past. And so on.
Well, I'm not sure about, you know, the ghost thing, but one thing it seems the Yankees can do better than any other team in baseball is wear people down. Pitcher after pitcher will talk about how it's just such a mental grind to face the Yankees because there are no breaks in the lineup, no easy outs, no hitters you can relax against. They all take pitches. They all have power. The Yankees are just constant pressure -- the ocean beating against the shore -- and like boxers working the body they feel confident that they will get you in the later rounds.
Take Johnny Damon. Please. Johnny Damon is probably the fifth or sixth-most dangerous hitter in the New York Yankees lineup. Maybe seventh. It depends what you mean by dangerous.
But no matter what you mean, you probably would not say Damon is a more dangerous hitter than A-Rod or Mark Teixeira or Derek Jeter or Jorge Posada or even Robinson Cano. You can determine for yourself if he's more dangerous than Hideki Matsui or Nick Swisher. He's a lifetime .288 with moderate power and moderate plate discipline and always interesting hair. In this lineup, a pitcher WANTS to face Johnny Damon.
Only, of course, he doesn't want to face Damon at all. And that's because: Johnny Damon IS dangerous. It doesn't look that way on this billion-dollar Yankees team*, but this guy is making a Hall of Fame case for himself.
Look: Damon has slapped and looped and backhanded and bunted and smacked his way to more than 2,400 career hits -- he has a pretty decent shot a 3,000 in his career. He has scored more runs in his career than Roberto Clemente, Tony Gwynn and Jim Rice. He has cracked more doubles than Jeter, Mike Schmidt and Enos Slaughter. By the time he's done ... well, those career numbers could be staggering. Damon also hit the grand slam for Boston in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, the shot that killed the Yankees and, perhaps as much as anything, sent them on a four-year search for themselves.
*I know this has been done before ... but it's always worth pointing out again that the Yankees really did spend more than a billion dollars to put this team together. Sure, everyone talks about their $200 million payroll, but when you talk about the entire contracts they took on to put this team together, well, it looks like so:
• $275 million for A-Rod.• $161 millino for CC Sabathia.• $180 million for Mark Teixeira.• $189 million for Derek Jeter.• $82 million for A.J. Burnett• $45 million for Mariano Rivera.• $52 million for Jorge Posada.• $52 million for Damon.• $52 million for Hideki Matsui.• $30 million for Robinson Cano.
That right there is $1.118 billion for 10 players (and I'm rounding down). You will note that the Yankees use more than 10 players. Talking about how much money the Yankees spend is such well-trodded ground that it generally seems pointless and overkill to bring it up. But yeah, you can put a pretty good team together for a billion dollars.
So, Tuesday, Damon came up in the eighth inning with two outs. New York's Melky Cabrera was on second. The Yankees had a comfortable but not entirely secure 5-1 lead. So Damon's at-bat was meaningful. A four-run lead leaves room for miracles and heartache.
Angels' reliever Matt Palmer started off Damon with a 77-mph curveball that broke down hard below the knees, and Damon looked terrible swinging and missing it. I've been writing about Damon since he came up to big leagues, and I would have to guess that no good player in baseball history has had more bad swings. This was one of his better bad swings. He looked as like someone who had just come to this country from, say, Russia, and was given a bat and told "Do your best."
And so, what did Palmer do? Well, you know what he did: He tried to throw precisely the same pitch to Damon. It makes sense, right? Damon had looked so bad on the first one. And if the guy couldn't hit that pitch before, he can't hit that pitch now ...
No. Of course it doesn't make sense. Damon is a good hitter -- you don't give a good hitter the same pitch twice. Palmer threw the second curve about two inches higher than the first, and Damon crushed it for a home run to right field. That was that.
The Yankees have won a number of ways this postseason. They have been given games by opponents' blunders. They have won because of the dominance of pitchers CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera. And they have won with their relentless offensive pressure -- by scoring in the late innings when opposing pitchers had run out of ideas how to get them out.Yes, they have a lot of ways to beat you. Tuesday night, for the first time, the Yankees looked unbeatable. It probably won't be the last time this postseason.