Suddenly, Jason Bay is a magnet for boo birds at Citi Field. The jeers surfaced in his final at-bat Wednesday against the Cincinnati Reds. And the catcalls returned with more fervor after Bay’s eighth-inning strikeout Friday, during what became a 4-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves.
“It’s two days, and I’ve actually been swinging the bat well,” Bay initially said, assessing his recent performance.
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Still, he concluded: “You don’t like it, play better. … You understand that people want more. I understand that.”
Bay said he has been spared from jeers throughout his career, even during his season and a half at Fenway Park.
“I’ve been pretty immune to it,” said Bay, who went 0-for-3 with a walk Friday as his average slipped to .268. “Usually, when you go through a rough patch, you’ve got numbers from early on to fall back on. That’s basically what everybody sees. Unfortunately, right now, I don’t.”
Bay nearly could have been the hero on Wednesday night in the rubber game against the Reds, but right fielder Chris Heisey raced into the gap to snare Bay’s shot and David Wright -- who would have scored the tiebreaking run -- instead was stranded.
“I’ve actually been swinging the bat fairly well,” said Bay, who has 20 RBIs in his last 23 games. “The last couple of games haven’t been great, but before that I was driving in some runs and actually putting a few things together.”
KNUCKLED UNDER: R.A. Dickey had allowed a total of two homers in his first nine starts. The sum doubled in a three-pitch span in the seventh inning Friday, when Melky Cabrera and Omar Infante consecutively took the knuckleballer deep.
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All four Atlanta runs off Dickey came with two out.
With the score tied at 2 in the seventh, Dickey quickly retired pinch hitter Brooks Conrad and Martin Prado. On a roll, he figured he would go right after Cabrera with a knuckleball, even though Cabrera had swung early in counts and had been the most in sync with Dickey’s signature pitch all night among the Braves hitters.
It didn’t help that Dickey’s first-pitch knuckleball to Cabrera didn’t knuckle. Cabrera smoked the offering for a tiebreaking homer. Dickey was pulled after the back-to-back longballs.
“It’s shocking in that I think I really felt like I threw the ball well up until the last three pitches of the game,” Dickey said. “I left a knuckleball up. And Melky had been taking good swings on it all night. I should have done a better job in recognizing that he was the guy on that team that really looked comfortable against that knuckleball. Strategically, I’ve got to do a better job of recognizing that in the future.”
As for the knuckleball that Infante took deep for just his second homer of the season, Dickey added: “It ran into his barrel a little bit. Ordinarily that doesn’t happen. He’s not a home run kind of guy anyway. It was tough. It felt like you got punched in the stomach, because I felt like I gave us a chance to win for a long time. It was unfortunate with two outs.”
Dickey did have two hits and score twice.
FRENCH TWIST: Right fielder Jeff Francoeur notched his eighth outfield assist when he threw out Brian McCann going first-to-third in the fifth inning. Infante nonetheless scored on the play, an RBI single by Troy Glaus. Francoeur is now tied with Houston’s Michael Bourn for the major league lead in outfield assists.
Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the Francoeur-for-Ryan Church trade.
OMAR AN ALL-STAR: Braves manager Bobby Cox suggested anyone criticizing Infante’s selection to the All-Star Game needs to look no further than his performance on Friday night for validation. Infante went 4-for-5 with two runs scored. He also made what Braves starter Tommy Hanson called the play of the night.
With runners on first and second and none out in the sixth, Infante fielded Josh Thole’s attempted sacrifice bunt and threw out Ike Davis at third base.
“Well, that’s why he’s on the All-Star team,” Cox said after the game. “I don’t see how anyone can question that one. … That’s what the commissioner wanted and they got a great one.”
Infante originally was slated to play right field, but moved to third base when Chipper Jones was scratched with back spasms.
Thole, incidentally, said he did a poor job executing the bunt.
“I can’t do that,” Thole said. “I squared around too late. I was unaware of where the shortstop was going. Had I squared around earlier and noticed the shortstop was going to third, I would have been able to pull back.”
BACK ON SATURDAY? Jones said he planned to take some swings before Saturday afternoon’s game to test his balky back. If all went well, Jones said he would be in the batter’s box to face Mike Pelfrey.
“If it gets to the point where I could turn it loose, I’m playing,” Jones said.
Jones said his back tightened Thursday. He said he was prepared to pinch hit in the eighth inning Friday but didn’t want to risk any further injury. (Tim Hudson laid down a sacrifice bunt instead. It was Hudson’s first career pinch-hitting appearance.)
STRATEGIZING: Jerry Manuel said he didn’t regret leaving in lefty pinch hitter Jesus Feliciano once Cox inserted southpaw Eric O’Flaherty to face him. Feliciano grounded out to strand two runners in scoring position in the sixth. Righty-hitting Nick Evans was available. Evans, who was promoted Friday, ultimately struck out as a pinch hitter in the seventh in his first major league at-bat since Oct 2, 2009, when he tripled off Houston’s Tim Byrdak.
“I like Feliciano,” Manuel said. “He’s a good hitter. He gives you good, quality at-bats regardless of lefty or righty. I kind of liked him as possibly my best pinch hitter there. Nick had just got called up. I kind of didn’t want to put him there. I liked Jesus in that spot.”