The way Jason Bay describes it, his job description is simple.
“I’ve maintained all along,” Bay said on the Red Sox Post-Game Show, “that on those days when I’m not getting hits or hitting a homer, if I could drive in a run – like (Sunday) against Atlanta, a sac fly – get those RBIs when I can, that’s basically what I’m really worried about, driving in those runs.”
If that is how Bay defines his responsibility, then mission accomplished. In Tuesday’s 11-3 Red Sox victory over the Nationals, Bay enjoyed yet another monster night this year. He went 4-for-6 with his 19th homer (an absolute bomb to left-center field) and a pair of critical run-scoring singles.
On the season, he now has as many RBIs (69) as games played. He leads the American League in that category, and ranks second only to the superhuman Albert Pujols (70) among major leaguers. Bay now has a major-league leading nine games this year in which he’s driven in at least three runs.
In short, he has been a run producer along the lines of the man who he succeeded in left field for the Sox. While it was widely suggested that no one could replace the run-a-game production of Manny Ramirez, Bay has been doing just that this year. That being the case, it seems only fitting that Bay -- - at a time when Ramirez' production, at least for the next couple of weeks, will benefit the Albuquerque Isotopes rather than the Dodgers -- is enjoying another form of status that was regularly conferred upon his predecessor: the leading vote-getter among American League outfielders for the All-Star game.
Of course, the similarities have their limits. Bay, after all, seems all but certain to attend the All-Star game if elected to go there (even if he refuses to take part in the Home Run Derby).
But the fact that, almost halfway into the 2009 season, Bay’s numbers (and attributes) can be compared fairly directly to those of Ramirez speaks volumes about what he’s done as a member of the Red Sox.
In 2005-06, he was quietly one of the top power hitters in the majors with Pittsburgh. Now, the secret is out. Bay’s place as one of the best power hitters in the game is no longer under wraps.
Here are four other lessons from a night when the Sox claimed their seventh road victory in their last eight tries:
THE SOX WIN THE BATTLE OF THE BULLPEN (AGAIN)
Laboring Sox starter Brad Penny seemed ready to do his job and call it a night. Entrusted with a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth, he cruised through a 1-2-3 fifth and then quickly recorded the first two out in the bottom of the sixth.
But the Sox starter could not close it out. He allowed a two-out single to former teammate Josh Bard, who then scored when another former Red Sox, Willie Harris, doubled to right. The hit tied the game, 3-3, forced Penny from the game…and put the Sox right where they wanted to be.
Once again, the Red Sox bullpen claimed a lopsided victory over an opponent’s relief corps. The Nats, after starter John Lannan left the game following 6.1 bend-don’t-break innings of work, offered a particularly futile foe.
Washington’s relievers allowed as many runs (8) as they recorded outs (8). For two outs made by a Boston batter against the Nats bullpen, the Sox put three men on base.
The Sox, meanwhile, enjoyed 3.1 innings of scoreless relief from the group of Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, Takashi Saito and Daniel Bard. In the process, the Sox improved their major-league-best relief ERA to 2.89.
Clearly, the Nationals bullpen – which now has a 5.38 ERA that ranks 29th in the majors – was outmatched. But Washington can take heart that they’re not alone.
When games are put in the hands of the Sox and an opponent’s bullpen, the proverbial writing is on the wall. The Sox have so many options that it has now become shocking if they lose a game that is in the hand’s of the relief staffs.
The Sox enjoy an 11-6 bullpen record, with their six losses representing the fewest by any relief group in the major leagues.
JACOBY ELLSBURY IS RUNNING (AND HITTING) WILD
In many respects, it is less surprising that Jacoby Ellsbury had two triples on Tuesday than it is that he had just one in his previous 64 games this year.
Ellsbury continued his spectacular June, going 4-for-4 with the pair of three-baggers, a walk and a steal to improve to a .357 average and 1.001 OPS along with nine steals this month. He became the first Sox hitter to collect two triples in a game since David Ortiz improbably accomplished the feat on July 22, 2004.
Meanwhile, he became just the fourth player in Sox history with two or more 30-steal seasons, joining Tris Speaker (5 times), Johnny Damon (2) and Harry Hooper (2). Ellsbury, in fact, is on pace for 69 steals this year, a mark that would shatter the team record of 54 set by Tommy Harper in 1973. He has swiped a dozen straight bags without getting caught.
There is, however, one note of caution about his base-stealing prowess. A year ago, Ellsbury stole 34 bases through the Sox’ first 74 games, but then seemed to hit a wall, swiping 16 bases over the team’s final 88 games.
Nonetheless, the Sox will have little cause for complaint if that history repeats itself so long as Ellsbury remains a near constant presence on base as he has this month while making consistent, hard contact.
“I'm trying to drive the ball,” Ellsbury told reporters. “That's been happening lately."
NICK GREEN IS RIDICULOUSLY ATHLETIC
Nick Green is a fairly quiet and unassuming sort, and so it has been somewhat surprising to see him emerge at times in recent weeks as the flashiest defender on the field for the Red Sox. The shortstop took that development to new extremes on Tuesday.
With one out and Christian Guzman on first in the bottom of the third, Nick Johnson bounced a ball just to the right of second base. Green fielded the ball and slapped a tag on Guzman while flipping over him, but somehow managed to maintain his balance when he hit the ground, popping up to his feet and firing a seed to first to complete a double play.
Description can do the play only so much justice. Visual evidence (from mlb.com) is better. (Note the expression on Kevin Youkilis’ face at the end of the play.)
Green’s acrobatics were impressive, though not necessarily surprising. It is simply that he now appears to be comfortable enough at shortstop – after having spent his career on the other side of second base – to allow his natural gifts to come into play.
“He’s finishing plays that he needs to. I think he’s always had a lot of range because he’s always been very athletic, very fast,” first-base and infield coach Tim Bogar noted recently. “He’s an athletic guy. When we first saw him in spring training, you could see that he had a great arm, he moves really well, and as he has the ability to play more, it gives him an opportunity to be more consistent.”
Interestingly, Green – who had rated as a below-average shortstop for much of the season – has now improved to slightly above-average according to the plus-minus ratings employed by John Dewan’s Fielding Bible. Entering yesterday, Green had made one more play than would the average shortstop.
In so doing, Green has been a stabilizing presence for the Sox at shortstop while Jed Lowrie has been on the shelf while recovering from left wrist surgery. Lowrie, incidentally, left his game with Triple-A Pawtucket on Tuesday after getting hit in the knee by a pitch.
BRAD PENNY, STRIKEOUT PITCHER?
By his own admission, Brady Penny is not a strikeout pitcher.
“I have my games where I’ll strike out people,” he said earlier this year. “But in my career, I haven’t been a strikeout pitcher. I’ve tried to pitch to contact.”
Early in the year, Penny held true to that philosophy, striking out either one or two batters in five of his first six starts, forging an unimpressive 6.90 ERA in the process.
Recently, however, Penny has been thriving on the power of the punchout. While he failed to get the win on Tuesday, he turned in a very serviceable start, going 5.2 innings and allowing three runs, leaving the game with the Sox and Nats in a 3-3 tie. While on the mound, Penny struck out six Nationals, once again exhibiting the a mid-90s heater and the off-speed stuff to get swings and misses.
Penny struck out six Nationals on Tuesday, and now has 31 strikeouts in his last 33.2 innings, spanning six starts. On the season, he is now striking out 6.2 batters per nine innings, his highest rate since the 2006 season.