"I had been here for two months and every game was a playoff game to me," said Bay. "Those ones had a little different feel. And I understand. I don't think it's the No. 1 reason teams do well or fail. I understand now how experience plays into a lot of things, having been there. I was a little nervous at first. I think everybody is. It's just a completely different feel."It's almost like getting to the big leagues. You're overwhelmed, like, 'What's going on?', and then you settle in, so I understand how the experience plays. That's the other thing, having been there, and now knowing what to expect." So ask yourself this: If Bay hit .412 with two homers and five RBIs in last year's American League Division Series when it was all new to him, what might he do this time around? The Red Sox look forward to finding out. Bay has continually delivered hits with the game on the line, so it shouldn't be much different with the season on the line.
"He's been great for us ever since he's come over," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "He's gotten, I don't even know how many big hits. It seems like every time we need one, he gets it. We've counted on him a lot and he's come through in every situation."In his first full season with Boston, Bay belted 36 homers and had 119 RBIs. On a team with fiery players like Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Victor Martinez and Jonathan Papelbon, Bay's low-key persona is an interesting change of pace. "He's definitely got a different way of going about the game," said Youkilis. "Overall, he's really calm. It's a good thing. It's a little different than some of us on this team that have extra fire, but he's got a real passion for the game. He just doesn't show his emotion on his sleeve. He's a guy that's going to drive in runs. He plays a good left field, too. He's a guy that's an MVP-caliber guy on our team, and in the league. What more can you say? He's a guy that's probably on the top 10 in MVP [voting]." Now, Bay gets ready to enter the most important time of the season, when every pitch is magnified. It took him just a few innings to get up to postseason speed last year. "My first two at-bats, I struck out," remembers Bay. Then, in the sixth inning, he belted a go-ahead, two-run homer against John Lackey. "I was kind of feeling around, and then I hit a home run and that kind of really calmed me down a little bit. And having gone through that last year, it kind of helps calm you a little more for this year," Bay said. "I just feel a little more prepared what to expect, not just in the games but with everyone else. There's a little more unknown when you've never done it before. That's kind of behind me." For an even-keeled person like Bay, the palpable urgency during the postseason was eye-opening.
"During the season, there are some big series and big games that arise. You can kind of feel the difference," said Bay. "Regardless of what happens during the season, there's always the 'we'll get them tomorrow' cliche. There's always another game. That's what's nice about the postseason. You can kind of feel that necessarily isn't the case. Games are managed differently, games are played differently. The atmosphere is different. Ultimately, there isn't always a game the next day."Yes, Bay still remembers the hollow feeling that came with walking off the field after the heartbreaking loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. "Last year, obviously we were down 3-1 and there were a couple of games that could have been the end, but you never really have the finality, that concrete time in mind of when it is going to end," said Bay. "When it happens, it's kind of like, 'Wow, that's it.' It suddenly comes to a stop. It was a little different feeling for me because I had always seen the end before." This time, Bay hopes, the end will be a championship parade.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.