The save can be an almost useless statistic. It is hardly an accomplishment for a pitcher to enter the game in the ninth inning with a three-run lead and not give up three runs.
Quite often, relievers working in the seventh or eighth inning record tougher outs that actually save a victory.
That was not the case for Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey Wednesday.
The Oakland Athletics scored a run in the seventh inning and another in the eighth. They trailed the Red Sox by one run and had their best hitters coming up.
Bailey struck out the side, locking up a 6-5 victory.
“That,” pitching coach Juan Nieves said, “was a man’s save.”
With Joel Hanrahan on the disabled list, Bailey has converted five of six save chances for the Red Sox. The 14-7 Sox are 10-2 in the games he has appeared in.
Over 11⅓ innings, Bailey has given up two runs on five hits and struck out 20.
“When you look at him, he looks like he’s pitching with his hair on fire,” manager John Farrell said. “But he’s out there with a definite plan and he’s able to execute it.”
On Wednesday, Bailey’s fastball was 94-96 miles per hour. He also threw seven cutters. Three of them produced swinging strikes that finished off John Jaso, Seth Smith, and Jed Lowrie.
“When you can throw something else for a strike, especially late in the count, they can’t be sitting fastball,” Bailey said.
Lowrie looked to have a two-out double when he sliced a ball down the right-field line that hit the chalk. But umpire Greg Gibson called it foul.
“It’s part of the game,” Bailey said. “I’m a big proponent of getting things right. But it’s also a game of inches and judgment calls. It was on my side today, I guess.”
Bailey was Oakland’s closer for three seasons and twice made the All-Star team. When he became too expensive for the Athletics, they traded him to the Red Sox before last season.
A spring training thumb injury caused Bailey to miss 4½ months, and he did not pitch well after returning. That prompted a December trade for Hanrahan.
Bailey was dropped into a setup role. When Hanrahan returns, perhaps early next week, Bailey is expected to return to the eighth inning.
“When Joel is ready, he’ll be back closing I’m sure,” Nieves said. “But we’ve been privileged to have Andrew. He’s a great closer.”
Bailey was diplomatic about the idea of losing a job he has done so well.
“It’s not my decision to make,” he said. “My goal was to stay healthy and prove that I could pitch. I think I’ve proven that I can pitch. We’ll see what happens when he comes back.
“We’re all on the same page in terms of where we want to take this team. Whatever roles are, roles are.”
Since this homestand started, he has entered games to “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,” by Dropkick Murphys. That’s the song former Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon came out to.
Bailey said it’s a tribute to the people in Boston after the Marathon bombings.
“We decided it’s a Boston song and was a staple for this city for such a long time and the fans really enjoy it,” Bailey said. “It gets them pumped up, that’s what it’s all about.”
Bailey also is growing a scruffy beard, another hallmark for closers. Add it up and it’s working.
“He’s done an outstanding job of making a pitch in some key spots,” Farrell said.
The Sox rallied from a 3-0 deficit with three runs in the fourth and three more in the fifth off Brett Anderson (1-4).
David Ortiz doubled to left with one out in the fourth inning, easing around first base and then hustling to second and sliding in safely. When Mike Napoli doubled to left, Ortiz misread the ball and retreated to second before making his way around to home.
After Jonny Gomes walked, Will Middlebrooks grounded into a force. Gomes rolled into Lowrie like he was trying to drive him into left field to break up the double play.
Stephen Drew hit a two-run triple to right. He had been hitless in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position.
“It was a big hit for us and especially for Stephen,” catcher David Ross said.
Jacoby Ellsbury singled and stole second to start the fifth. He scored on a double by Shane Victorino as the Sox took the lead.
It was a determined at-bat by Victorino, who fouled off three two-strike pitches to the left side before driving the ball down the line in left.
Dustin Pedroia singled, as did Ortiz to drive in a run. Ortiz is 8 of 16 with three RBIs in four games since coming off the disabled list.
Chris Resop came on and his first pitch hit Napoli. Daniel Nava hit for Gomes against the righthander and grounded a RBI single through the hole into right field.
Sox starter Jon Lester was the winner despite a rocky outing that lasted only 5⅔ innings. He allowed three runs on six hits and six walks, one shy of his career high. Lester struck out five.
Lester is 4-0. He did not gain his fourth victory until June 16 last season.
Junichi Tazawa left the bases loaded in the sixth inning, getting Coco Crisp on a fly ball to bail out Lester. Tazawa allowed a run in the seventh and Koji Uehara one in the eighth when Chris Young hit his second homer of the game.
That left it in Bailey’s capable hands.
“Everybody wants to be the closer and everyone wants to pitch the ninth inning,” Bailey said. “Right now that’s my job.”