DETROIT — Johnny Damon sent a low pitch over the right-field fence, a sweet stroke the New York Yankees have seen many times.
For the first time, Damon did it against New York as an ex-Yankee.
Damon hit a homer in his first game against the team that didn't re-sign him, helping the Detroit Tigers beat the Yankees 5-4 on Monday night.
“We've all seen him do that a lot,” New York manager Joe Girardi said. “Some of the time on our side and some of the time on the other side.”
Austin Jackson, a former Yankees prospect, gave Detroit a three-run lead in the second inning, and Phil Coke got two key outs against his former team after Damon's homer.
“Those guys were pumped up,” teammate Joel Zumaya said.
Damon, though, insisted he was not motivated to show the Yankees what they're missing.
“I'm not that kind of person,” he said.
Damon helped the Yankees win the World Series last year in the final season of his $52 million, four-year deal. He wanted a long-term deal at the same average salary, but the Yankees didn't value him that much and kept reducing their offer, claiming payroll constraints.
“I know forever I'll be linked with the 27th championship,” Damon said.
The Yankees took on a bigger salary when they acquired center fielder Curtis Granderson from Detroit in a three-way trade with Arizona, sending prospect Jackson and Coke to Detroit.
At least short term, the deal has been in the Tigers' favor.
Mark Teixeira's two-run home run pulled New York within a run in the third inning, but it blew chances to score more by stranding nine.
“We had chances to come back, but we had some missed opportunities,” Girardi said.
Detroit's Brad Thomas gave up two runs in three innings. Eddie Bonine (3-0) pitched 2 1-3 scoreless innings. Zumaya gave up two runs on three hits and two walks after pitching well for 1 2-3 innings.
Coke retired two before Ryan Perry got Derek Jeter to line out to end the eighth with two on and down a run. Jose Valverde struck out the side for his ninth save.
Valverde fanned Nick Swisher, Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez much to the delight of 34,365 fans.
Brennan Boesch hit a two-run single in the first after Rodriguez's two-out throwing error.
“That hurt quite a bit because it moved up two runners and then the next guy gets a base hit and they both scored,” New York's starting pitcher Sergio Mitre said. “Alex made a nice diving stop, and if he's able to get off a good throw, we're out of the inning, so that was tough.”
Boesch added an RBI triple in the seventh to give the Tigers a 5-2 lead.
Detroit needed the cushion.
The Yankees loaded the bases with no outs against Zumaya in the eighth and former Tiger Marcus Thames hit an infield single to pull within two runs and chase the Detroit reliever. Brett Gardner hit an RBI groundout against Coke and Randy Winn popped out against him.
With the crowd on its feet for a full-count pitch, right fielder Magglio Ordonez made a sliding snag of Jeter's liner near the right-field line.
“It was a game-saver,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.
Mitre (0-1) gave up four runs — three earned — on five hits and two walks over 4 1-3 innings.
Damon — who signed an $8 million, one-year deal — hit a solo shot in the fifth to put Detroit ahead 4-2 and chase Mitre.
“Johnny likes playing in big games, so it's not a surprise that he had a big hit,” Jeter said. “He's done that for us a lot of times and he's done it against us a lot of times.”
NOTES: Thomas took Dontrelle Willis' spot in the rotation and Leyland hopes Willis can pitch out of the bullpen Tuesday. ... The Tigers have the area's undivided attention in early May for the first time since 2001, when the Red Wings had a first-round exit in the NHL playoffs and the previous year the Pistons weren't in the NBA playoffs. ... The Tigers honored late broadcaster Ernie Harwell during a pregame ceremony. ... Mitre made his first start of the season, filling in for Andy Pettitte, whose elbow is expected to be healthy enough for him to pitch Saturday.
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