Commentary

All eyes on Mets' Jason Bay

With Wright out, right-handed power burden falls on underwhelming left fielder

Updated: April 13, 2012, 11:50 PM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Forget about pain tolerance. David Wright's fractured right pinkie will not bend enough to wrap around a bat. So the New York Mets seem likely to place their third baseman on the disabled list before Saturday's game.

And that leaves the best righty-hitting power option in the lineup as ... Jason Bay?

Yelp.

After two years of underwhelming production in a Mets uniform, Bay arrived at spring training vowing to trust himself and not constantly tinker with his swing.

Yet Bay, who signed a four-year, $66 million contract before the 2010 season, did not have any RBIs in Grapefruit League play. And he drove in only one run during the Mets' season-opening six-game homestand.

With Wright out for a third straight game, and with the Mets facing Phillies ace Cliff Lee at Citizens Bank Park, Bay nonetheless provided the critical stroke Friday night. His two-run homer in the first inning off Cliff Lee capped a three-run frame. The Mets eventually snapped a two-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory.

Bay's last homer came on Sept. 8, 2011, against Atlanta Braves left-hander Mike Minor. Before going deep against Lee, Bay had failed to produce a homer in 17 straight starts in left field, the 10th-longest drought of his career.

"A guy like that, it literally was the only pitch I got to hit from him all night," Bay said about the first-inning fastball from Lee. "And the way things have been going, I normally would have missed it or taken it. It was like, 'All right, I put a good swing on it,' and I just kind of exhale a little bit and build off that."

Said manager Terry Collins: "I feel great for Jason Bay. I'm telling you, he needed it as much as anybody. A huge hit for him and for us."

Make no mistake, Bay hardly is out of the woods. In his next three at-bats, he struck out twice, then grounded into a forceout at the plate with the bases loaded. His average sits at .174.

If the power that has been absent from Bay's bat during his first two seasons of the contract -- when he produced a combined 18 homers in 2010 and '11 -- does not surface, it could get very ugly. Already, Bay was repeatedly and lustily booed by Citi Field spectators during the first homestand.

Bay potentially has an even more ominous vesting option looming than the games-finished provision that prompted Mets general manager Sandy Alderson to hastily trade closer Francisco Rodriguez to the Milwaukee Brewers last July. If Bay has 600 plate appearances in 2013, or 500 apiece this season and next, his contract vests at $17 million for 2014.

That's normally a navigable payroll commitment for a New York team, but not the austerity-driven Mets. Roughly 60 percent of the payroll is tied up in Johan Santana, Wright and Bay.

Bay, though, maintained that Wright's absence does not prompt him to place an extra burden on himself.

"If David is in there, it's not, 'OK, David's in here, so we're all going to relax,'" Bay said. "It's about controlling what you can control. Whether it's the ballpark or who's in the lineup, who's not, I think that you're up there trying to do what you can do regardless of 'who's there' situations and all that."

Meanwhile, the Mets are now 5-2 thanks to Bay's blast off Lee. Projected to finish in last place in the National League East, the beginning to the season -- all against division opponents -- has not yet mirrored the expectations. So what if the Phillies are missing injured Ryan Howard and Chase Utley?

"For us, it's a huge game," Collins said about Friday's 5-2 win. "We talked about getting out of the gate fast. We did. Then we had two games we didn't play very well. So to come in here and play a team -- and I know they're short also -- it's huge for us. It's all about building some confidence in the lineup. We've got some young players. I'll tell you, they start believing in themselves that they can play at this level, we've got a chance to have a dangerous lineup."

Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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