Every day brings more familiarity for Jason Bay.
A new routine. A new route to the ballpark. A new hitting coach. Discovering that to avoid headaches he must remove his helmet after scoring because his new teammates like to pound on it. Learning to love hitting at Fenway Park, where Bay launched a three-run first-inning homer off Oakland lefthander Dana Eveland to give the Red Sox a 5-2 lead en route to a 12-2 win last night over the A's.
While it might be too soon to judge whether the Manny Ramírez-Bay swap has invigorated the Sox in their quest to overtake Tampa Bay in the AL East, there has been an electricity at Fenway the last two nights, sparked by Bay's hitting and presence.
It certainly wasn't all about Bay last night. Kevin Youkilis homered twice, a two-run blast in the first and another in the eighth. There was Jed Lowrie's bases-loaded double in the third, Jon Lester's seven strong inning to earn his 10th win, and Mike Lowell's superb defense at third base (even with a sore right hip flexor).
Ramírez smacks first NL homer in second game with Dodgers. D5
But the microscope remains on Bay.
Everyone wants to know who he is and what he is made of, his strengths and weaknesses. So far, you won't find many of the latter.
"I don't think two games and two wins makes a career, but it's two wins and I'm happy to be a part of it," said Bay.
The righthanded-hitting Bay entered the game hitting just .200 (17 for 85) against lefthanders, far off his career splits - .278 against lefties, .283 against righties.
"It hasn't been a big sample size against lefthanders, just haven't faced a lot this year so far," Bay said. "April was kind of a buzz saw for me, I was in a funk, but I never think that I don't hit lefties well because I've always hit them and I certainly feel more confident facing lefthanded pitchers.
"I hope by the end of the year things will be where they usually are."
He said he's relying on Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan to help him prepare for pitchers he's never faced. Bay knew Magadan briefly when he came up with San Diego, but they are only starting to work with each other. So far Magadan hasn't had to change a thing.
Bay has also found that playing left field at Fenway is going to be easier than in Pittsburgh or in other expansive National League ballparks.
And he'll find that the Sox can win in many ways. Last night's win, in which Boston stroked 14 hits, had a completely different feel than Friday's 2-1, 12th-inning walkoff victory, in which the Sox struggled against Oakland's All-Star starter, Justin Duchscherer. Last night, the A's offered up Eveland, who was crushed for eight hits and nine runs over two-plus innings. Almost everything he threw up was tagged, even some of the outs.
Lowrie, who had two hits, drilled a bases-loaded double into the right-field corner in the third. Lowell had led off the inning with a double to right-center, Bay walked, and J.D. Drew singled to set up Lowrie, who was Eveland's final batter. The rookie shortstop, who knocked in both Boston runs Friday, has hits in 10 of his last 12 starts.
Boston's first-inning bashing erased a 2-0 deficit against Lester, who surrendered a homer to Emil Brown after Ryan Sweeney's leadoff single.
Lester struggled to find his release point early on and left balls up to Frank Thomas and Mark Ellis, both of whom singled. Lester was able to escape further damage by getting Carlos Gonzalez to ground into a double play.
Lester, who has produced 14 quality starts in 23 outings, settled down nicely with a big lead and challenged the weak A's lineup. He was coming off two excellent outings - a 9-2 home win over the Yankees July 27 in which he allowed two runs over seven innings, and a 4-0 win at Seattle July 21, in which he pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings.
Lester, who improved to 10-3 with a 3.14 ERA after last night's seven-inning performance, has thrown at least 100 pitches in each of his last five starts and six of his last seven, but he doesn't appear to be worn out by it.
After the tough first inning, Lester allowed only a second-inning walk to Bobby Crosby, a third-inning single to Thomas with two outs, a fifth-inning single to Kurt Suzuki with two outs, and a seventh-inning single to Jack Hannahan, who was wiped out on a double play.
"I had a rough first inning and guys come out and swing the bat really well," Lester said. "It was nice to have a break between innings and then come out and have a nice cushion."
The Sox, who have spent the last 16 days in second place, certainly needed to keep winning because the third-place Yankees finally slowed down the Angels with an 8-2 win earlier in the day, and the Rays remained three games ahead of Boston by beating the Tigers, 9-3.
The Ramírez deal, coupled with playing the weaker A's, has now produced a pair of wins and pointed the Sox in the right direction before they wrap up their series with Oakland today and embark on a seven-game road trip (three in Kansas City and four in Chicago) tomorrow night.
So far, Bay's new life with the Sox isn't much different from his old life as a Pirate.
"It's the same game when the game starts," said Bay. "It's what I've done my entire life."