Bay doesn't need much time to fit in
Red Sox get all they want and more in left fielder's first week
KANSAS CITY -- From the moment the deal went down, Jason Bay has kept hearing that he's supposed to feel pressure. Yet it doesn't totally add up to the even-keeled, right-handed-hitting run producer who now plays left field for the Red Sox.
Pressure? To Jason Bay, who had never tasted a pennant race while putting up All-Star numbers with the Pittsburgh Pirates, this is fun.
Playing for the Boston Red Sox -- perennial contenders and defending World Series champions -- is a dose of adrenaline at a time of year that had always been the truest form of Dog Days for Bay in Pittsburgh.
"It means everything," said Bay, of finally fighting for a playoff spot in his fifth Major League season. "It's a long season [in Pittsburgh]. Like I said, you go out there and you play baseball because that's what you do. But in Pittsburgh, it's been that way the last few years for no lack of trying. It just didn't work out all that well. It does make it a little longer than normal, but that's part of baseball. Not everyone can be a part of this atmosphere all the time."
The atmosphere Bay speaks of is one he has grown to love in just one week. Yes, Thursday -- an off-day for the Red Sox -- marked the one-week anniversary of the trade that revitalized a 29-year-old left fielder.
In case you haven't noticed, Bay has taken to the so-called pressure, hitting .423 (11-for-26) in his first six games as a member of the Red Sox. He has scored 10 times, mixed in two doubles, a triple, a homer and six RBIs.
Red Sox first baseman Sean Casey is not surprised. He teamed with Bay on the 2006 Pirates.
"He'd play every night and he was just a clutch hitter," said Casey. "He played hard. People don't realize how well he can run, too. He runs well. He was a great teammate. The kind of teammate you'd want every day. I always thought, 'Anywhere but Pittsburgh the guy would be a household name.'"
Speaking of household names, Bay was traded for a legendary slugger named Manny Ramirez. Give the low-key Bay credit for looking at that scenario in the most logical way imaginable.
"I just look at it as, 'They traded Manny and they needed a left fielder.' That's the way I look at it," said Bay. "Somebody had to come play after him, and I'm kind of glad it was me."
So, too, are the Red Sox. As general manager Theo Epstein closed in on the July 31 Trade Deadline and it became clear that the Ramirez situation was no longer a healthy one in Boston, the only available player he could see filling the void was Bay.
In fact, Epstein indicated that Bay would have been on his radar come the offseason had Ramirez stayed the course in Boston through the end of 2008.
"There was going to be a time when we had someone other than Manny Ramirez in left field," Epstein said. "Realistically, that time was probably going to be 2009, at the latest. Looking forward, we wanted to have a very productive hitter in left field. We wanted to have a right-handed bat to help balance our lineup and to help complement David [Ortiz] and others. We wanted to have someone who could play the position and fit into this ballclub.
"You look out there, there aren't too many guys who are going to be available this winter who fit that description. Jason was very much at the top of the list when it comes to who could have possibly been our left fielder in 2009 and conceivably going forward from there. To make this transaction from a difficult starting point and end up with Jason as our left fielder and have him on a good contract through next year we think is a very good outcome."
Despite the immediate chaos of moving to Boston, Bay couldn't be any happier with his situation.
"No question," said Bay. "That's what you play baseball for. I enjoyed my time in Pittsburgh, but the atmosphere here and the chance to win a ring makes it special."
In the days before Bay arrived, the Red Sox were in the midst of their worst stretch of the season. Playing against the Yankees and Angels, the Red Sox lost five out of six at Fenway, where they had dominated all year.
But once Epstein pulled the trigger, the Red Sox have done the complete opposite, winning five of six.
Nobody would call Bay a savior. But he represents a fresh start, and the end of the turmoil that had surrounded Ramirez for weeks.
"I think he has a real good understanding of trying to be himself, not somebody else," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He's reacted real well. I'm glad he got some hits when he first got here, because I'm sure it helped him relax."
Among Red Sox players, perhaps Casey can best relate to what Bay is feeling these days. In 2006, he was the player the Pirates traded to a contender on July 31. Casey would go on to play in the World Series for the Tigers that year, ultimately losing to the Cardinals.
"It totally rejuvenates you," said Casey. "When you're out of it in May, and in Pittsburgh you're usually out of it in May, what are you playing for? Really, you're playing for your stats, you're playing for your salary, you're playing to just kind of get through the season. It's a grind. When I got traded to Detroit, I realized the magnitude of all the games. It's fun because every game mattered. You were able to keep your focus the rest of the season because everything really mattered. I think J. Bay felt that when he got over here."
Bay has rolled with it, belting hits all over the place and getting to know his new teammates.
"If there isn't [excitement], I don't think you're human," said Bay. "You go from more of a laid-back atmosphere to, at least for myself, a playoff atmosphere."
And Bay looks around the clubhouse and sees proven winners -- not to mention productive hitters.
"That's the biggest thing," Bay said. "You look around and nobody is counting on you to be that guy. You're just a complementary piece to that puzzle. There's some relaxation that comes from that. Ever since I've been there, I have two guys on base every second or third time I get up there. That's a testament to the lineup."
The support doesn't stay within the confines of the clubhouse. Even on the road -- as Bay noticed at Kansas City -- Red Sox fans are everywhere.
"Red Sox fans are definitely loud and proud, for good reason," said Bay.
As it turns out, the new guy is giving Red Sox Nation plenty to make noise about.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.