Saves not be-all end-all for Red Sox

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox bullpen has just a dozen saves this season, No. 12 coming courtesy of Andrew Bailey after Wednesday's 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Rays. Only the Cleveland Indians with nine have fewer saves in the American League.

"Oh, I get to talk after a save, huh? How about that?" Bailey said with a smile. "Felt good, threw strikes."

Three teams have blown more saves than the Red Sox have saved games: the Cubs (13), Dodgers (13) and Diamondbacks (13).

Then there are the Yankees and Orioles, who have more than twice as many saves as the Sox, with 25 apiece. Three closers -- Mariano Rivera of the Yankees, Jim Johnson of the Orioles and Jason Grilli of the Pirates -- have almost twice as many, with 23 apiece. Bailey, meanwhile, leads the Sox with seven.

So, is that a reflection of the precarious state of the closer situation for the Sox, given that Joel Hanrahan is lost for the season after Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, and Bailey has only two saves in 23 games since being reinstated off the disabled list on May 20 after missing 19 games with a strained right biceps?

In a word, no.

"That's awesome," Bailey said. "We lead the league in runs, you know what I mean, so that's a good thing. It obviously puts a little less taxing stress on the bullpen early, which is good, but when your team is scoring a lot of runs, yeah, it's a good thing. But it's nice to win the close ones, too. Obviously, a big series win for us, especially going into Baltimore."

Bailey has had just one other chance in that stretch to save a game, which came Monday night, when he entered in the 10th inning with the Red Sox ahead, 8-6, gave up a home run to Jose Lobaton to open the inning, then walked in the tying run.

That outing was only the seventh time Bailey had pitched since coming off the DL, though it was the fourth time in the past six games, and came the day after he'd thrown 24 pitches in a non-save situation against the Angels.

Bailey wasn't especially sharp Sunday either, throwing only 14 of 24 pitches for strikes; on Monday, when he walked three, it was 17 out of 32. But while he blew the save, Bailey did a remarkable job of avoiding defeat, as he induced Rays slugger Evan Longoria to hit into a double play, then second baseman Dustin Pedroia made a terrific play on Sam Fuld's drag bunt.

"Lost in that game was how good a job Bailey did," Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "OK, it was rough, giving up the home run, then walking in the tying run, and now you're facing Evan Longoria. A lot of people would cash that in. All he has to do is a sacrifice fly, bloop a ball in. Instead, he gets a double play and gets out of it.

"This team is relentless, man. That's what's really cool."

Wednesday night's save did not come without its anxious moments. James Loney lined Bailey's first pitch, a fastball, off the right-field wall, right fielder Shane Victorino playing in a no-doubles alignment that allowed him to get to the ball quickly and hold Loney to a single.

The Rays outhomered the Sox in this series, 9-1. Did Bailey think that Loney might have gotten No. 10?

"No," he said. "His bat path is kind of like (Mike Napoli's), so anything he gets up has topspin on it. I knew he hit it pretty good, but actually I didn't think it was going to hit the wall. I thought maybe Shane, he's Spiderman out there, I thought he might make another great play."

Rays manager Joe Maddon sent in Fuld to run for Loney. Bailey, mindful of keeping Fuld at first, then missed with a breaking ball, cutter and fastball to fall behind the next batter, Desmond Jennings, 3-and-0 before throwing a fastball for a called strike. "There were a lot of different situations they can do there," he said. "They could put down a bunt early in the count, but with the 3-0 you always have to figure the hitter is still going to be aggressive, and I was able to put it in a good spot."

Jennings swung at the next pitch, another fastball, and flied out to center for the inning's first out.

Bailey then struck out the next hitter, Luke Scott, sweeping a cutter in for a called third strike.

That brought up Lobaton, the same man who had taken him deep the night before. When Fuld stole second, the Rays were within a base hit of tying the score. Monday night, Bailey said, the Rays laid off his breaking stuff. This time they were in swing mode, Lobaton striking out on a 2-and-2 cutter to end the game and justifying the side work Bailey did before the game with pitching coach Juan Nieves.

"I worked on staying back a little bit longer, trying not to get too antsy," Bailey said. "Sometimes that's my problem, getting a little jumpy. I'm really trying to stay back and work on that, and it worked."

Jumpy and antsy are not the same thing as a case of nerves, Bailey said.

"I think it's from adrenaline," he said. "I think you get pumped up in certain situations. Sometimes you try to make the ball do something rather than trusting the grip. For me, it's always been kind of an issue, even early in my career [I got] kind of jumpy. Juan and I talked about it and worked on it."

Overall, the Red Sox have converted 12 of 20 save opportunities, a 60 percent success rate.

It may well be that the back end of the bullpen could prove vulnerable; the Sox, after all, made the move to replace Bailey as closer last winter when they traded for Hanrahan. The jury probably will remain out until Bailey successfully runs off a string of saves. But the low numbers so far this season are no reflection on his effectiveness.