For a player who spent all 18 of his big-league seasons in the American League, outfielder Johnny Damon had his share of memorable performances against the Cardinals, including a home run to lead off Game 4 in the historic sweep of the 2004 World Series by the Red Sox.
Yet it was an incident that occurred 15 years ago, in Damon’s first regular-season series against St. Louis, that may be what many Cardinals fans will most remember about him.
Damon, 38, was released this month by the Indians, two months after his two-run home run off reliever Maikel Cleto helped Cleveland to a 6-2 victory at St. Louis on June 8, 2012. A left-handed batter with more than 2,700 big-league hits, Damon may be facing the end of his major-league playing career.
He excelled against the Cardinals, batting .330 (31-for-94) with 18 runs in 23 regular-season games. Damon also hit .286 (6-for-21) against them in the 2004 World Series.
From the start, he was a fiery combatant when facing St. Louis. In August 1997, the Cardinals played the Royals in the regular season for the first time. The Cardinals won the opener of the three-game weekend series at Kansas City.
The next night, a Saturday, Aug. 30, the Royals pounded starter Manny Aybar and reliever Mark Petkovsek. When right fielder Jermaine Dye hit a grand slam off Petkovsek in the fourth inning, it increased the Royals’ lead to 14-1.
The next batter was Damon. Petkovsek’s first pitch to him hit Damon in the ankle. Damon charged the mound. He grabbed Petkovsek in a headlock and they tumbled to the ground.
Both benches and both bullpens emptied. During the next five minutes, the Associated Press reported, “play was halted as players wrestled and jostled, screamed and postured.”
Cardinals pitcher Andy Benes went after Tim Belcher and tore the front of the Royals starter’s jersey. Royals bench coach Jamie Quirk and Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan wrestled one another to the ground, the Associated Press reported.
Damon and Petkovsek were ejected. Two innings later, Belcher hit St. Louis right fielder Phil Plantier in the hip with a pitch.
There were no serious injuries, but there was plenty of huffing and puffing in the clubhouse after the Royals’ 16-5 victory. Boxscore
“The guys in red versus the guys in blue. Or was it the Bloods versus the Crips?” Chili Davis, the Royals’ designated hitter, said to the Lawrence Journal-World.
Said Damon: “I kind of thought he’d throw at me. I did what I had to do.”
An incredulous Cardinals manager Tony La Russa told the Lawrence newspaper, “Hitting the guy on the ankle? With a sinker? Are you kidding?”
Said Petkovsek: “I was just trying to throw a fastball inside. I was surprised he came out there.”
Asked whether hitting Plantier with a pitch was retaliation, Belcher said, “I was pitching him in all night.”
The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch gave heavyweight treatment to the melee.
_ La Velle Neal of the Star: Basebrawl broke out at Kauffman Stadium Saturday night.
_ Dick Kaegel of the Star: Now it’s absolutely official. This Royals-Cardinals thing is a rivalry. The boys got down and dirty Saturday night.
_ Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch: Emotions already were running reasonably high for this first interleague meeting between the Cardinals and Kansas City Royals. But, in a tumultuous fourth inning Saturday, they reached fever pitch.
Not all bought into the notion the series had created bad blood between Missouri’s major-league teams. Said Royals catcher Mike Macfarlane to the Lawrence Journal-World: “How can there be bad blood? We’ve only played them twice.”
Damon was in the lineup, batting leadoff, the next afternoon, Aug. 31. He struck out three times, including in the ninth inning when he batted with two on and one out against closer Dennis Eckersley. Cardinals pitchers hit two batters and St. Louis won, 5-4.