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For Sox and Bay, it was a good trot spoiled

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  September 9, 2008 11:34 PM

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Losing is hard enough, particularly in the ninth inning. But the Red Sox' 5-4 defeat to the Tampa Bay Rays last night also pre-empted what might have been a mid-week love-in with Jason Bay for his heroics in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Here's the part you might not have known: When Bay came to bat against reliever Dan Wheeler, it was his 21st career plate appearance against the pitcher - more than any other active player in the major leagues. Wheeler and Bay faced one another primarily when both were in the National League Central - Bay with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Wheeler with the Houston Astros - which led to the unusually high number of encounters. In Bay's 20 previous plate appearances against Wheeler, he had gone 1-for-18 with eight strikeouts and a walk.

Bay himself did not know the numbers until earlier this year when the Pirates faced the Rays in interleague play and reporters asked him about his difficulties against Wheeler.

``He's one of those guys that's always had my number,'' Bay said last night. ``He's got a good sinker and a good slider. Some (hitters) just don't see the ball very well against certain (pitchers). For me, he's one of those guys. He's got good deception. He throws around 90 (mph), but it always seems harder to me.''

If Bay is vulnerable to anything against right-handed pitching, the slider away seems like the toughest pitch for him. Bay has a slightly open stance and extremely fast hands, and he admitted during his first days with the Sox that he sometimes gets a little ``pull happy,'' which can make him vulnerable to pitches breaking away from him, particularly on the outer half of the plate.

Last night, Wheeler started Bay with a slider in the dirt, a pitch ruled a ball. Wheeler followed with a fastball for a called strike before a fastball on the inner half of the plate that Bay pulverized for a two-run home run. The homer was seventh with the Sox and gave him 33 RBI in 34 games with the team. He also has scored 30 runs.

The 457th consecutive sellout at Fenway demanded a curtian call after Bay circled the bases and gave the Sox a 4-3 lead, moving the Sox within three outs of first place in the division.

As it turned out, the Sox never got there.

And for a day, at least, Bay went from the toast of the town to a relative afterthought.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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