There is no comparing anyone left in the postseason to Jason Bay.
His 11 hits lead every batter in the playoffs. His nine RBIs tie him for first with the Phillies’ Shane Victorino. His three home runs tie him for second behind the Rays’ B.J. Upton. Among players remaining in the playoffs, his 1.437 OPS is second only to …
Oh, boy. Of course. So, yeah, maybe there is one comparison. Bay might be the best player so far in these playoffs. So how unfair is it that you could still say, “Well, he’s no Manny Ramirez” and, in at least one sense, be technically correct?
Ramirez is the only player with a better slugging percentage than Bay in the postseason, he’s the only active player with a higher batting average, and the Dodgers slugger’s OPS is slightly higher, 1.543 to 1.437.
But, as we’ve all learned during Bay’s tenure in Boston, to belabor the fact that he replaced Ramirez misses the point entirely: Bay is one of the best players baseball and, in his first October, he has been the most destructive offensive force in the Red Sox lineup. He jacked a home run in Boston’s ALCS Game 2 loss in Tampa Bay, and he’ll lead the Red Sox back into Fenway Park for this afternoon’s Game 3.
“I mean, so far, so good,” Bay said.
How’s that for understatement? Bay is batting .440 (10 points lower than … oh, never mind), has reached base in more than half his plate appearances, and scored the series-clinching run in Game 4 of the ALDS, sprinting from second after a double and diving headfirst into home.
Bay’s unflinching demeanor has helped carry him through these playoffs. He waited four years in the minor leagues to make the majors, and he waited five years in the majors to make the playoffs. When he struck out in his first two at-bats this postseason, he joked to teammates in the dugout, “That’s a big part of my game.”
During his seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, playing for team nowhere near contention, he never stewed about his franchise’s irrelevance, because he had nothing to compare it to.
“I hate this saying, but it is what it is,” Bay said. “You go out there, and you play because that’s what you do. And you try to win games. You don’t really know any different. It’s something I was missing, and I didn’t know. That’s just what baseball was like for me. Now this is what baseball is like.”
He received his first taste of true baseball pressure when he arrived in Boston, taking over in left field for a future Hall of Famer. He hit well immediately and never worried about the man who used to play his position. But the atmosphere in which he arrived in Boston helped him for the postseason — playoffs bring anxiety, but how much worse could it be than replacing Ramirez?
“It’s been different,” Bay said. “It hasn’t been astronomically different. Nothing prepares you for it. But I did have a general sense.”
Bay had figured Boston out. Maybe Boston didn’t realize, until now, quite what it had in Bay.