Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bay doesn't have sights set on 162

It was the middle of August in 2005, and Jason Bay was hurting.

He'd been hit in the ribs with two pitches in a night game at Shea Stadium in New York, the ninth game of a 12-game road trip, and his Pittsburgh Pirates had to jump a train to get to Philadelphia in time to start a weekend series with the Phillies the next day. He had a huge bruise on the left side of his torso; he wasn't convinced, in fact, that he hadn't broken a rib or two.

"Running, coughing, moving -- my rib cage was killing me," he said.

But, by that point, he'd already played 121 straight games to open the season. It just didn't feel right to take a day off. Pirates management asked him if he wanted a day off, told him it was up to him to decide whether or not he wanted to play. Bay, though, isn't one to beg out of a game -- and having played two-thirds of the season without taking a day off was something in which he was starting to take a little pride.

He kept his mouth shut about his sore ribs -- no reason to give Brett Myers or Billy Wagner a target -- and "put the equivalent of a flak jacket on" and went out there. Only when the pain grew too severe for him midway through the second game of the series did he acknowledge he was feeling any type of discomfort. He left that game in the fourth inning.

"He wanted to continue," Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said at the time. "But we're not going to risk that it could be something serious. I just didn't want to take a chance."

Bay then played all nine innings the next day; he went 4-for-8 with a double and a pair of RBI in the three-game series.

"The problem you run into is that when you start a little streak like that, it's very hard to stop it," he said. "It's very hard to say, 'Hey, I don't want to play today,' or, 'Hey, I want a day off.' ... In hindsight, that was stupid. I should have just taken a day or two. That's something that now I know, having been there."

Bay will apply those lessons at some point this season with the Red Sox. He just hasn't applied them yet.

Bay, in fact, is the only Red Sox player to have appeared in all 39 games this season. He'll get a day off at some point soon, his manager said, but there's been no reason to do so.

Part of the reason he's played so many games is because the Red Sox have needed his bat in the middle of the lineup. David Ortiz has struggled all season, and Kevin Youkilis just spent two weeks on the disabled list with an oblique injury. It just hasn't made sense to take a day off for the sake of taking a day off.

"You look around," he said, "and are like, 'Maybe now is not the ideal time.'"

Bay could at least take a break from playing the field as a designated hitter, but he doesn't particularly want to do that. Francona offered him that chance during Ortiz's weekend vacation in Seattle; he declined.

"I'm mostly a National League guy," he said. "I've never done it" -- he's done it once, actually, in an interleague game in 2007 against, coincidentally, Seattle -- "and I don't really like it. I don't feel like I'm involved in the game very much. It's very hard for me to stay focused in that role. ...

"If need be, sure, I'd do it. But when (Francona) said, 'Do you want to?', I said, 'Not really. If you need me to, I will, but if I'm going to play, I'd rather just play.'"

Said Francona, "We asked him the other day in Seattle if he wanted to DH, and he said, 'No.' ... I asked him, 'Will you tell me if you're beat?' He said, 'No.'"

All joking aside, though, Bay understands the value of taking a day off. Now that he's 30 years old instead of 26, it's even more important.

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia talked boldly this spring about playing 162 games; he's already missed two with a groin pull. Bay still has a shot at playing 162 -- but what's the point?

"You don't get a plaque or something at the end of the year," he said. "Having done it, it's cool to say, but for everything that's relevant to playing -- especially in the playoffs -- it's definitely important to get a day or two."

When might that day come?

"Next spring," Francona said with a smile.

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