As the Red Sox collapsed this season, Andrew Bailey was a helpless spectator. The pitcher expected to be the team’s new closer missed the first 116 games recovering from surgery on his right thumb.
Bailey also was in the uncomfortable position of being close to manager Bobby Valentine — the two became friendly in recent years after meeting at a charity event — and not being able to help him win games.
“It has been a little awkward,” Bailey said. “Watching it from afar, you’re with the guys but you’re not really out there having the satisfaction of having success on the field. You feel like you’re not really part of it.”
Obtaining Bailey from the Oakland Athletics was one of the first significant deals for general manager Ben Cherington. The deal, completed Dec. 28, swapped outfielder Josh Reddick, minor league infielder Miles Head, and minor league pitcher Raul Alcantara for Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney.
The trade looked like a winner for the Sox. Bailey was a two-time All-Star, saving 75 games for the Athletics over three seasons. He also seemed suited for the intensity of the American League East, having grown up in New Jersey and attended college in New York. Bailey even lived in New England, having purchased a home in Connecticut with his wife, Amanda.
But the Athletics have benefited more so far. Reddick has 28 home runs and 75 RBIs and is playing a key role in Oakland contending for a playoff spot. Head hit .333 with a .968 OPS in the minors and appears to be a legitimate prospect.
Bailey tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb when he collided with a runner while covering first base in a spring training game. He did not play his first game for the Sox until Aug. 14 and has pitched only 6⅔ innings.
In 63 games, Sweeney hit .260 without a home run, then was lost for the season when he broke a bone in his left hand punching a metal door at Fenway Park.
Bailey could only laugh when asked about the idea of his former team pushing for the postseason while he plays out the season for the Red Sox. That didn’t seem remotely possible eight months ago when he was traded.
“I’m happy for those guys in Oakland,” he said. “Being traded over here, both myself and the front office had high hopes. But it has been a terrible season with all the injuries we had.”
The one salvation for Bailey has been reclaiming his job as the closer from Alfredo Aceves. Bailey has picked up two saves in his last five appearances. In nine appearances overall, he has allowed one run on five hits and struck out five.
“He’s getting the outs,” said Valentine. “I think he’s close to being exactly where he wants to be, throwing the ball, showing that aggressiveness and good adrenaline when he’s on the mound. It’s a good look.”
Aceves had a rocky tenure as closer, failing to get an out in his first two appearances, then giving up five runs against the Yankees on April 21 in a 15-9 loss that set a tone for what was to follow.
When Aceves struggled again in August, Valentine turned to Bailey and Aceves reacted so angrily the night of Aug. 24 that he was suspended for three games.
Aceves has since had an angry confrontation in the dugout with second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
Bailey, who has steered clear of the drama this season, is focusing on getting in as many innings as he can to prepare himself for next season. He also is a first-time father, the couple’s daughter arriving three months ago.
Bailey has been in constant motion, spending time with his family in Connecticut while trying to establish himself in the Red Sox bullpen.
“Been an interesting year on and off the field for me,” he said. “With the injury and the baby and all that stuff, it has been hectic. But part of being a big leaguer and a professional athlete is being able to balance all those things and understand you make certain sacrifices to play this game, to be part of a great organization.”
The Red Sox see Bailey as their closer next season and perhaps beyond. On Tuesday in Seattle, he came on in the ninth inning to protect a one-run lead and held on to give the Sox their only victory of the nine-game road trip.
“I’ve been looking forward to that for a long time,” said Bailey. “Obviously with the injury in spring training, it’s very frustrating. I hopefully can do that for a long time here. We have a lot of winning baseball ahead of us.
“Obviously, this year has been very frustrating as a team. But it was nice to go out there and get that win.
“I’m 100 percent. I wouldn’t have been able to come back and pitch if I wasn’t. I wouldn’t have done that to myself or the team. Unfortunately, with injuries, you have to make sure you’re good enough to go and I feel great right now.”
Bailey is convinced the Red Sox can contend next season.
“I have the utmost confidence and respect for the organization,” he said. “We all know that Ben and the front office are going to put a winning team on the field. It’s just that we have to wait to the offseason to do that. With the core guys that we have here, we’ll make the moves we need to make.”
It is unlikely Valentine will be around for that. Bailey said one of the toughest aspects of the season for him was not being able to do more to help a manager he respects.
“It’s been tough to see,” he said. “Unfortunately, he has to wear a lot of that stuff because he’s the manager. We’ve had to deal with a lot of injuries and he’s dealing with new players every day. It’s been hard on everyone and especially him. I know he’s doing the best he can.”
It’s hard to quantify what kind of difference Bailey would have made for the Sox had he been healthy all season. But teammates believe his impact would have been significant.
“He’s a bulldog,” outfielder Cody Ross said. “Any time he gets the ball — and I’ve faced him numerous occasions — it’s not a fun at-bat against Bailey. He’s coming right at you and he works quick and makes you get ready. We definitely missed him.”