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In Boston, Bay stars

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  May 26, 2009 08:42 AM

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Fortunately for the Boston Red Sox, during the seeming demise of David Americo Ortiz, the career of Jason Raymond Bay has gone into full bloom. Like Ortiz, Bay came to Boston from the relative obscurity of a smaller market. Like Ortiz, he has turned Fenway Park into his very own Broadway stage.

Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay
Free-agent-to-be Jason Bay is making himself a lot of money with his performance this season. (AP Photo)
Right before our eyes, Bay is turning into a superstar.

"I think I'm doing the same things that I was doing before, but obviously it's a different market, different circumstances, a different situation," Bay said last week while sitting in the Red Sox dugout. "Like I said last year, you're always going to have questions about somebody's ability to play in a big market, play in the playoffs, whatever. You can debate it until you're blue in the face, but until you do it, it doesn't matter."

So here we are, 94 games into his relatively brief Red Sox career, and Bay seems to have seamlessly fallen into Boston's line of kings in left field. From Williams to Yastrzemski to Rice to Ramirez, the Red Sox this season are celebrating 70 years of continued productivity from their left fielders. Remember, in between Rice and Ramirez, the Red Sox got some good years from Mike Greenwell, and Troy O'Leary was at least a capable placeholder.

Now comes Bay, a man whom manager Terry Francona has described as "conscientious" and who has plugged holes like the little Dutch boy. He has displaced Ramirez in the outfield; he hits in the clutch like the Ortiz of old. Bay is giving to Boston and Boston is giving to him, and all that giving has turned a relatively unheralded member of the Pittsburgh Pirates into one of the most celebrated talents in baseball.

In Pittsburgh, a supporting man like Nate McLouth can only go so far. In Boston, Bay stars.

"You have to be careful not to slander or disparage where I came from because I have nothing bad to say," Bay said of Pittsburgh, echoing remarks he made upon being traded to Boston last summer in the final act of the Ramirez drama. "But as of last year, Pittsburgh wasn't winning."

The Pirates aren't winning now, either. And barring a dramatic change from the elements that have produced an astonishing 16 straight losing seasons, the Pirates aren't going to win anytime soon, either.

Entering tonight's game between the Red Sox and Minnesota Twins at the evaporating Metrodome, Bay is the only man on the Boston roster to have played in all 45 games this season. He has reached base via hit or walk in 40 of them. Bay has the best at-bat-to-RBI ratio in the entire major leagues (3.38) and he has more RBIs (47) than games played or hits (46). (He had two more RBIs in yesterday's 6-5 win.) The man has been nothing short of a run-producing machine, also going a perfect 5 for 5 on steal opportunities to make him a stunning 51 of 55 in steals since the start of the 2005 season.

Bay even has shown an improved ability to drive the ball to the opposite field, something Francona acknowledged following a victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park last week.

At the moment, the only thing Bay lacks is a contract beyond this season, something he and the Red Sox explored only briefly during spring training. If Bay's market was difficult to define at that time, as Sox general manager Theo Epstein indicated, it could be a good deal more difficult to define come the end of the season. While the Red Sox were able to sign Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Jon Lester to long-term deals over the winter, the Sox privately indicated that they would wait for free agent hitters to sign before making a play on Bay. When Bobby Abreu (one year, $5 million with the Los Angeles Angels), Pat Burrell (two years, $16 million with Tampa Bay) and Adam Dunn (two years, $20 million) subsequently agreed to terms, the market was far more favorable to the Red Sox than it was to the player.

So, naturally, Bay did the wise thing. He chose to wait. He has since pounded most everything in sight at a rate that could make him the most desirable free agent on the market after this year.

While the precise terms of any Sox offer to Bay are unknown -- both sides are being especially mum on the topic, suggesting neither wants to damage the relationship -- it is not unreasonable to think the club offered the player a two- or three-year deal worth roughly $10 million a season. (This is a guess.) If and when the time comes, the Red Sox may have a hard time denying Bay the $14 million per-season average they paid J.D. Drew -- this is one of the more damning aspects of the Drew deal -- though that deal was signed in a much different economic climate.

Whatever the particulars, this much is clear: Bay can play in a big market and he can produce with the big boys. Since joining the Sox last summer, Bay has knocked in more runs (84) than Drew has in any one season of his Red Sox career (it's not even close -- Drew had 64 RBIs in 2007 and 2008) and he has scored nearly as many runs (75) as Drew did in his best Red Sox season (84 in 2007). While Drew was 30 at the time he signed with the Sox, Bay will be 31 before this season ends.

Get the picture?

Last summer, in the wake of the Ramirez affair, Bay came to Boston towing a Samsonite full of questions. Over the last several months, as he unpacked and settled, he has pretty much answered them all. Bay batted .341 with a 1.105 OPS in the postseason and has batted everywhere from third to sixth in Francona's lineup. He has proven to be the kind of offensive force that can help drive the Red Sox offense.

All the way around, the relationship has been beneficial. What has been good for the Red Sox has been good for Jason Bay.

Come the fall, shouldn't that be enough to inspire them all to continue on?

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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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