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The Red Sox landing Johnny Damon helped pave the way to a World Series title

On Dec. 20, 2001, a new ownership group led by John Henry bought the Boston Red Sox, committing themselves to breaking The Curse of the Bambino. On Dec. 21, they took the first step toward doing just that by landing one of the most coveted free agents of the offseason: A's center fielder Johnny Damon.

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Damon hit the ground running in Boston, earning the first All-Star Game selection of his career and leading the American League in triples in his first season with the Red Sox. But it was in 2004 -- the third year of his four-year, $31 million deal -- that Damon etched himself into Red Sox history.

After hitting .304 with 20 home runs and 94 RBIs during the regular season, he went 7-for-15 in a sweep of the Angels in the ALDS. But he struggled in the first six games of the ALCS against the Yankees, compiling just three hits (all singles). Fortunately for Damon and the Red Sox, that series went to a seventh game -- after the Red Sox came back from trailing the series 3-0 -- where he more than made up for it.

In the second inning, Damon hit a grand slam on the first pitch he saw from Javier Vazquez to extend the Red Sox lead to 6-0 and silence the Yankee Stadium crowd:

He hit another home run in the fourth inning, once again on the first offering from Vazquez, as the Red Sox took Game 7, 10-3, to reach the World Series. They then swept the Cardinals, breaking Babe Ruth's legendary curse -- with Damon leading off the clinching Game 4 with a solo home run.

During his four years with the Red Sox, Damon hit .295 with 56 home runs, 299 RBIs and 98 stolen bases (with a success rate over 80 percent). But, all that and his two All-Star Game selections during his tenure are just window-dressing to what Damon's signing in 2001 came to represent: the beginning of the end of The Curse of the Bambino.