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Tampa Bay Rays' Johnny Damon thrilled to be approaching Ted Williams on all-time hits list

Johnny Damon heads into the dugout after the Rays’ first hit, and run, of the game, a solo home run in the fourth inning.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Johnny Damon heads into the dugout after the Rays’ first hit, and run, of the game, a solo home run in the fourth inning.

ST. PETERSBURG — As DH Johnny Damon moves up the all-time hits list, he has been honored to pass his share of Hall of Famers.

Reggie Jackson. Ernie Banks. Joe Morgan.

But with one more hit, Damon will join a legend he feels especially sentimental toward: Ted Williams (2,654 hits).

Damon pulled within one with two big hits in Tuesday's 4-3 win over the Reds, a solo homer in the fourth and a two-run double in the eighth. One more hit puts Damon in 71st place all time, an important place in the heart of the former Red Sox.

"That's probably going to be the most special one on the list," Damon said. "Obviously, every hit you get and whoever you tie or pass is special. But I think Ted Williams is tops for me."

Damon was playing for Boston when Williams died in 2002. He remembered that when the Red Sox honored the late Hall of Famer on the field, his son, Jackson, wore a Williams jersey. Williams was a six-time batting champion who hit 521 homers and was the last to hit better than .400 (.406 in 1941). Along with his 19-season career, he spent five years as a Navy pilot.

"He'll go down as the greatest hitter of all time," Damon said. "Obviously he probably could have got more hits if he didn't walk as much … and also serving our country like he did. … He's numero uno."

FINISH IT: Even though RHP James Shields is on a historic run with three consecutive complete games, it won't change his approach as he goes for No. 4 today against the Reds.

"I'm going to go out there, make my pitches," Shields said. "And if I'm there at the end, it'll be nice."

Shields, who has a club record and major league-high six complete games, knows the key to finishing games is how he starts at-bats. He is the most efficient starting pitcher in the AL, averaging 13.8 pitches per inning.

"I think the main thing about this year is I'm getting ahead in the count and not getting into too many three-ball counts," Shields said. "I'm staying really aggressive early in the count. When you have first-pitch strikes and getting guys out quick, especially throwing strikes with all four of my pitches, you tend to be successful that way."

If Shields throws another complete game, he'll join then-Blue Jays RHP Roy Halladay (2003) as the only pitchers in the past 13 years to have four in a row.

IN CLOSING: RHP Kyle Farns­worth blew just his second save of the season, allowing a tying homer to Reds RF Jay Bruce in the ninth. Farnsworth (16 saves in 18 chances) has allowed a run in five of his past eight outings (12 hits, 82/3 innings) after surrendering a run in four of his previous 28. But manager Joe Maddon is not concerned.

"Full count, I think the cutter didn't get where he wanted it to cut," Maddon said. "Obviously he left it over the plate more. …It's not going to be perfect every night."

STARRY NIGHT: Evan Longoria, an All-Star starter last season, ranks fourth among AL third basemen in the final balloting update. 2B Ben Zobrist and Damon are each fifth, and OF Matt Joyce 11th. With in-stadium balloting finished, fans can vote online at mlb.com until 11:59 p.m. Thursday. Results will be announced Sunday. The game is July 12 in Phoenix.

MISCELLANY: Tuesday was the Rays' first win against the Reds in eight tries. They now have beaten every major-league team. … SS Reid Brignac's error on a hard-hit ground ball by Reds DH Jonny Gomes in the fifth was changed to a hit two innings later. … The fourth annual Rays on the Runway event, benefiting the Children's Dream Fund, is tonight at the Tampa Museum of Art. It is sold out.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays' Johnny Damon thrilled to be approaching Ted Williams on all-time hits list 06/28/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 12:47am]

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