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Jason being Jason

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff October 2, 2008 06:11 AM

After his inaugural 49 games as a Boston Red Sox, this much we are certain of regarding Jason Bay: He is a very easy ballplayer to admire, particularly in direct comparison to his petulant predecessor in left field.

By all accounts and appearances, Bay is a pro's pro, a natural fit in Theo Epstein's post-Idiots, businesslike clubhouse. He runs out every last grounder, wields a more-than-capable glove in left field, and deftly makes his way around the bases without requiring a GPS system.

There are no whispers that he needs to be talked onto the team plane, and he seems to lack a toddler's imagination for coming up with fictional injuries. Chances are he'll never be the subject of a Curt Schilling "Clubhouse Confidential'' report on a sports radio station near you.

His statistics -- 31 homers and 101 RBI this season between Boston and Pittsburgh -- insist he's a star, but his demeanor suggests Friendly Next-Door Neighbor.

Yes, Jason Bay is the anti-Manny. And that, Sox fans, is the catch as the Sox immerse themselves in their American League Divisional Series matchup with the Los Angeles Angels.

There is not an ounce of hyperbole in the suggestion that Bay never played a meaningful major league game before he arrived in Boston. He spent much of the first five years of his career stuck in baseball purgatory in Pittsburgh, laboring admirably for a franchise that hasn't had a winning season since Barry Bonds wore a cap three sizes smaller and had Coco Crisp's physique.

Bay's experience -- or lack thereof -- at this time of year should be of nearly as much concern to the Red Sox as the condition of Josh Beckett's oblique, Mike Lowell's hip, J.D. Drew's back or the constantly fluctuating state of the enigmatic bullpen. Although he is obviously the more established big leaguer, he is as much a novice as newbies Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson when it comes to the unique challenges that arise in October, when the nights are cool and the pressure reaches the boiling point.

And this, as all of your World Series commemorative trinkets from '04 and '07 will surely remind you, was the time of year when Sox fans were always glad the maddening idiot savant for whom Bay took over in left field was on their side.

Ramirez napalmed every bridge but the Tobin on his way out of town, and other than David Ortiz and the occasional blind and stubborn apologist (hi there), the consensus regarding his departure bordered on the unanimous: Good bleepin' riddance. He had to go -- he had to -- and Epstein deserves at least cursory mention in the Executive of the Year voting just for getting a player of Bay's quality for Ramirez in those final desperate hours before the trading deadline.

For all of his bizarre quirks and infantile behavior, though, Ramirez remains undeniably one of the all-time great hitters (he's ninth on the career list in OPS). Judging by the patently ridiculous numbers he's put up for the Dodgers (.396, 17 homers, 53 RBI in 53 games), it's clear the sun still hasn't set on his prime, even at age 36.

Although Manny hasn't always raised his game in the postseason, he usually maintains an elite level, which is plenty good enough: In 95 (95!) postseason games and 353 at-bats over his 15 seasons prior to this one, the 2004 World Series MVP batted .269 (remember, he's typically facing top-shelf pitchers) with 24 homers and 64 RBI. His postseason OPS is .889, and his accomplishments and value extend beyond the numbers on the back of his baseball card.

Skeptical? Quick, what was your most memorable moment of last year's ALDS showdown between the Red Sox and Angels? Something tells us Francisco Rodriguez remembers.

As much as we have come to appreciate Bay and his dependable, well-rounded game (and personality), there is no denying it: The Red Sox lineup is significantly weaker without Manny in the middle. Ramirez and Ortiz were the closest thing to Ruth and Gehrig our generation (and our dads' generation, for that matter) has been blessed to witness, and with Ramirez now off winning ballgames and charming unknowing fans in Los Angeles, Ortiz couldn't be faulted for feeling like the Lone Ranger without his Tonto. Oh, Papi certainly knows the Red Sox have a very good team. He also knows he's not going to get nearly as many pitches to hit, especially if those following him in the lineup fail to do their part.

To their credit, the Red Sox have gone to great lengths to make sure any comparisons of Bay and Ramirez are limited. Terry Francona eased his new left fielder in slowly, batting him fifth in his Boston debut Aug. 1 even when there was a glaring hole in the No. 4 spot in the order (which Kevin Youkilis has since expertly filled). And the Pittsburgh-to-Boston transition could not have been smoother -- Bay batted .293 with nine homers in 184 at-bats with the Sox. So far, expectations have been reasonable, and Bay has met or exceeded them.

But this is different. It's October, the postseason, the pressure cooker. The Red Sox are in a situation with which Bay is unfamiliar, and one where his Cooperstown-bound predecessor thrived.

It may not be fair, but it's damn sure the reality: The burden falls on Bay, perhaps more than on any other player in the
Boston lineup, to attempt to replace the irreplaceable.

Jason Bay doesn't have to pick up all of the slack for Manny Ramirez.

But if he does anything less than his part against the Angels, NESN will have to reshoot that ubiquitous commercial, because Boston will no longer be so nice to the new guy.

OT columnist Chad Finn is a sports reporter for Boston.com and can be reached at finn@globe.com.

8 comments so far...
  1. Manny is gone...

    Go Sox...Root for the guys in the unifom, not the clown who quit.

    Lets be real. HE QUIT on the team. Anybody who played baseball in thier youth in LL, Babe Ruth League ,or any other,,, Cant Stand QUITTERS . I dont give a crap how well he hit (boo hooo,,what will we do) ,,,lets grow up . Unless I missed something in the past few days, didnt the Red Sox make the playoffs ?? Geezz,,,

    Posted by John October 2, 08 07:20 AM
  1. Well, you're wrong, as usual.
    Jason Bay did exactly what he's done since he's come to Boston.
    Hit in the clutch, mostly against quality pitchers.
    This guy is a keeper, and it's a shame people like you aren't satisfied with his play.
    This morning, most Red Sox fans are very happy Jason Bay is a Boston Red Sox.

    Posted by Manny Farouk October 2, 08 08:51 AM
  1. Manny might be the better hitter but he's not the better overall baseball player. The Sox have played better as a team since he left and other guys have been free to step up and play the game the way it should be played. Youk hitting clean up? Well, why not? He's developed into an elite hitter (save for the fact he hits 320 foot fly balls to right field) and can drive in runs. If Lowell, Drew and Bay are consistant then what you have are 6 guys in a row who can swing the bat, get you about 150 HRs a year and 200 doubles. The OBP will be in the ,365-.370 range. If Pink Hat Poster Boy can get on base 250 times a year, he will steal 60 plus bases and that ripples through the line up.

    Posted by rob October 2, 08 12:52 PM
  1. Me thinks he did his part!

    Posted by Anonymous October 2, 08 01:22 PM
  1. Tell me again where I said he wouldn't come through? The point was that they need him to -- and he did, in Game 1. As, you may have noticed earlier in the day, did Manny. I hope one of them keeps it up -- Bay.

    Posted by cf October 2, 08 03:15 PM
  1. The notion that Ortiz lived larger hitting before Manny has been statistically proven wrong by Peter Gammons. Guess Ortiz having knee and wrist surgery in the same year still escapes most sportswriters ... but David's stats with Manny behind him and with him not there (prior to his recent injuries) are identically great. And may I remind the Boston media that a player named Youk is mentioned in the top 4 for MVP ... not bad having that behind you when you are batting 3rd. Ortiz will be back ... so good luck to Manny, better luck to the Red Sox.

    Posted by Bman October 3, 08 08:11 AM
  1. Do you have any urge to change the tone of this article now after the ALDS that Bay had, forget the homers in game 1 and 2, I am thinking strictly of last night and when I was pretty sure that you know who wouldn't have run the bases as hard and there would be the debate today of Crisp was on the bench and shouldn't he have been used. And that someone else probably wouldn't have even tried lining up the catch so it caught no ground off of Napoli last night.

    Posted by Kate October 7, 08 04:40 PM
  1. After last night, maybe now the comparisons to Manny can stop - he's his own player - welcome to Boston Mr. Bay!

    Posted by LB225 October 7, 08 09:13 PM
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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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