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Helene Elliott

Bay is giving the Red Sox power, poise

October 04, 2008|Helene Elliott

Jason Bay is not competing mano a mano -- or in this instance mano a Manny -- with the man who preceded him as the Boston Red Sox's left fielder.

Yet, he's putting up Manny Ramirez-like numbers against the Angels in their American League division series, giving a new meaning to Massachusetts' nickname of the Bay State.

Bay, acquired by Boston from Pittsburgh on July 31 in the three-way trade that sent Ramirez to Los Angeles, on Friday hit his second home run in two playoff games, a three-run blast in the first inning against Angels starter Ervin Santana.

When his drive hit the decorative rocks in left-center, the Angels' playoff hopes hit the rocks too.

They nibbled and gnawed at Boston's lead and caught up in the eighth, but their fumbling fielding and ineffective pitching cost them for the second straight game.

Bay's home run was a stunning moment in Boston's 7-5 victory, and not only because it put Boston in position to eliminate the Angels on Sunday when the series shifts to Fenway Park.

It was the emergence of a new star, a man with a loud bat and quiet confidence.

"We've been very good at home, but the bottom line is we can't be throwing a party just yet," Bay said.

"It's a nice cushion and it's the best-case scenario we could have hoped for going home, but how many times did the Angels win three games in a row? There's too many factors. You just want to go out there and finish it."

The Angels hardly resembled the team that won a major league-leading 100 games, a team that was aggressive and sure-handed and could laugh after Frankie Rodriguez earned all those "nervous" saves.

On Friday they committed two errors and watched Rodriguez give up a two-run home run to J.D. Drew that broke a 5-5 tie.

This series has become another Boston Massacre for the Angels, who have lost 11 straight playoff games to the Red Sox.

For the last two they can blame themselves and Bay, who has provided a burst of power the Red Sox had every reason to expect plus healthy doses of poise they couldn't be sure he had.

Ramirez, the Angels' old nemesis, and Bay, their new one, are not alike in temperament.

Bay, a Canadian who played hockey until he was 12, is, by all accounts, as quiet and humble as the outspoken Ramirez was pouty during his last days in Boston.

Once Ramirez was dealt to the Dodgers, his outlook and output improved to the point where he was otherworldly. In 53 games with the Dodgers he batted .396 with 17 home runs and 53 runs batted in. Bay batted .293 with nine homers and 37 RBIs in 49 games with the Red Sox.

Their playoff production has been nearly equal. Ramirez has hit two home runs against the Cubs and is batting .500 (four for eight) with three RBIs.

That's extraordinary for anyone but Ramirez, who has hit a record 12 division series home runs with Cleveland, Boston and the Dodgers.

This is Bay's first postseason experience after five-plus major league seasons, mostly with Pittsburgh.

He struck out in his first two at-bats against John Lackey in the first game but then slammed a fastball for a two-run home run that erased the Angels' 1-0 lead.

On Friday, besides the home run, Bay singled in the seventh and ninth innings. He has five hits in nine at-bats over two games (.556), with two home runs, five RBIs and two runs scored.

That's even better than Ramirez -- which inevitably was pointed out to him. He politely declined to discuss comparisons.

"That's completely irrelevant to me," he said. "I'm still not trying to live up to anybody. It's been a good start, but that definitely has no bearing on me whatsoever."

Bay hasn't come out of nowhere. He had 30-home run, 100-RBI seasons in 2005 and 2006 and surpassed those milestones again this season, hitting 22 home runs and driving in 64 runs for Pittsburgh before hitting nine homers and driving in 37 runs for Boston.

"No slight to Pittsburgh, but there's guys on every time I come up," he said. "Being in the middle of that lineup and maybe the lack of options that we had, I was the guy. In this lineup I'm just another hitter. There's David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis and I'm just another guy in that lineup and maybe the anonymity plays in my favor."

He's not anonymous anymore.

"He's the new Manny, I guess," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said. "He's out there swinging the bat like crazy."

His performances have made the Red Sox forget Ramirez. They've also given the Angels reason to be anxious as they head to Bay's state for what could be their season finale.

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Helene Elliott can be reached at helene.elliott@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.

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