But this time, Bay spent the first day of October sizing up a meaty fastball from John Lackey and hammering it over the fence in left field to give the Red Sox the crucial blow they had been searching for in Wednesday night's 4-1 victory over the Angels in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
After playing 771 Major League games, none of which were of the postseason variety, Bay learned what the big stage was all about, putting himself front and center.
"Everyone wanted to know if it was going to be different," Bay said. "I had nothing really to compare it to, so I just [assumed] it was the same game. And you get out there and you can tell it's not -- it's a little bit different. But once you get over it and get into the throw of it a little bit, it's just baseball again. And I couldn't have picked a better kind of a first game, I guess, but, you know, I'm glad that we won and that's it."
How did the pressure of the moment not unnerve Bay?
"Because, man, he's cool as a cucumber," said Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who nailed down the save in the ninth. "He's got ice in his veins. In this game, the coolest cat always wins. It's that simple."
Of course, Bay's two-out, two-run bash in the top of the sixth inning would not have held such weight if not for a superb pitching performance by Jon Lester, who was thrust into the role of ace in this series when Josh Beckett couldn't take the opening nod because of a strained right oblique.
After working out of bases-loaded jam in the first, Lester was nails for the rest of the night. The left-hander allowed just one unearned run on six hits, with seven strikeouts and one walk over seven innings and 117 pitches of work.
|Courtesy of David Vincent of SABR|
"I think it's very important any time you can come out and get a win in somebody else's ballpark," said Lester. "I think it's a huge win and momentum for us and a confidence boost."
The Red Sox also got a large night from leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury, who delivered three hits, two steals and a sensational catch in center field.
Dating back to Game 5 of the 1986 AL Championship Series, the Red Sox have now beaten the Angels in 10 straight games in the postseason.
So much for the Red Sox being too battered to win, what with Beckett ailing and Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew both hobbled, but in the lineup.
"We're just a stubborn group of guys," said Papelbon. "We don't quit. We've got Mikey Lowell playing hurt, J.D. comes back. We're stubborn. We don't give in. I think that's the biggest key."
There was definitely no giving in during the bottom of the eighth, even as that notorious Rally Monkey seemed to be rearing its ugly head.
With Lester out of the game, Red Sox manager Terry Francona went to rookie sinkerballer Justin Masterson. Mark Teixeira opened by breaking his bat and hitting what looked like an annoying flare to short center field. But Ellsbury made a tremendous diving catch for the first out.
Bay Day at 'The Big A'
Then came a single to right by Vladimir Guerrero, which got the revved-up crowd up on their feet at Angel Stadium.
Torii Hunter followed with a bloop into shallow right that first baseman Kevin Youkilis chased as if he was on a post pattern in a football game. It was a tough play, and Youkilis couldn't handle it. But in what seemed like an instant, he grabbed the baseball and made a perfect throw to third base, easily nailing Guerrero for critical out No. 2. Instead of the Rally Monkey, the baserunning miscue by Guerrero turned into a rally killer.
"You just have to sprint," said Youkilis. "It's one of those plays, you have no idea where the ball is and you have to look up real quick. It's one of the toughest plays. I'm just glad I got the ball and threw him out at third."
Earlier on, the Red Sox had much bigger problems.
Stifled by Lackey over the first five innings (three hits, no runs), the Red Sox were simply looking for baserunners. Youkilis drew a one-out walk to set up Bay, who was all over Lackey's 0-1 offering.
"It was huge," Ellsbury said. "He got us going. He had two tough at-bats and came back with the home run, and he had the double. He did tremendous. He had a great game."
It was hard for the Red Sox not to notice that the man Bay was traded for -- superstar slugger Manny Ramirez -- had delivered a big home run for the Dodgers earlier in the day. Taking batting practice, Boston players could see Ramirez's blast as it happened on the big scoreboard in center field.
However, Bay showed that Boston's new left fielder can also come up big when it counts most, not that there was much doubt after his seamless transition to the club over the last two months of the season.
"He's not trying to be Manny Ramirez," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "He's Jason Bay, and that's all we ask of him."
To say that Bay's hit changed more than just the score -- but also the complexion of the entire game -- would not be an overstatement.
"That was a huge hit," Pedroia said. "After that, in the dugout, we said, 'Now we can relax and play baseball.'"
The only time the Angels scored on Lester was in the fourth, when Hunter hit what should have been an inning-ending groundout to shortstop, only to have Jed Lowrie bobble the ball for his first error as a Major League shortstop. That gave Howie Kendrick a chance with two on and two outs, and he delivered, lining an RBI single in front of Bay in left.
But as they do this time of year, back came the Sox.
"We've got to go out there and take today as a victory, come back, get ourselves reenergized tomorrow; and then Game 2 on Friday, [we've] got to come here and keep applying the pressure as an entire ballclub," said Papelbon. "Regardless of what happened in Game 1, if we can keep doing that and take it back to Fenway [2-0], I like our chances."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.