When the 2011 campaign for the Boston Red Sox ended in a bitter collapse in late September, it ended with a blown save by closer Jonathan Papelbon in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Papelbon, who established himself as one of the best closers in franchise history, would ultimately have to decide quickly on whether or not to return to a city that had a foul taste in it's mouth after that game, a game that he couldn't finish.
Ever since Papelbon gained superstar closer status in 2007, it seemed that Red Sox fans saw the writing on the wall that he would command a high dollar free agent contract in 2012 and may not be back with the team.
It appeared that new general manager Ben Cherington saw that writing on the wall, and decided to not even offer a contract to the All-Star closer. Boy did he ever get a contract.
On November 12, Papelbon moved on from the Red Sox, as he agreed to terms with the Philadelphia Phillies on a four-year, $50 million dollar contract. Whew. Even if Theo Epstein, a notorious big spending GM, were still leading this team, there's no way he would have given Pap that kind of money.
When it was decided that "I'm Shipping Up To Boston" by the Dropkick Murphy's would no longer be playing in the bottom of the ninth inning at Fenway Park, the Red Sox had a big holes to fill. Well first, they needed a new song, but they also needed a new closer.
Enter Andrew Bailey.
Just after the Christmas holidays, Cherington and the Sox pulled the trigger on a trade with moneyball star Billy Beane and the Oakland A's on a trade that sent the All-Star closer to Boston along with outfielder Ryan Sweeney in exchange for outfielder Josh Reddick and a few minor leaguers.
Bailey, 27, struggled with injuries all last season with Oakland, as he was limited to just 42 games out of the bullpen last season. He managed to pick up 24 saves and recorded a solid 3.24 ERA for a lowly A's club, while battling elbow issues all season.
When the Red Sox acquired the young hurler, there were many concerns about his health, whether or not he would be make the necessary adjustment to pitching in the A.L. East, and the pressures of pitching in Boston. Let's first start out with the state of his health.
In college, Bailey had Tommy John surgery to repair some elbow damage. Ever since, it appears that same elbow has given him trouble. After a successful rookie-of-the-year season in 2009 that saw him save 26 games and record a 1.84 ERA in 83 innings of work for Oakland, the arm issues returned.
In 2010 and 2011, Bailey was plagued by the same elbow issues that got him in college. Even though he had elbow surgery following the 10' season to repair chips, Bailey struggled to return to form and did not pitch until late May.
When he did pitch in 2010 and 2011, he seemed to closely resemble his phenomenal rookie season. During that two-year span, Bailey averaged 25 saves and a 2.36 ERA. This is when something was wrong with the kid's elbow.
Bailey has said that he is now 100% healthy, pain free, and has been throwing regularly since early December (earlier than usual for him). When looking over his career numbers and ignoring the obvious in terms of innings pitched, you'd almost never know this guy was hurt. Now that he's in the best shape of his life... I'd be afraid to see this guy on the mound in the ninth. Like, Mariano Rivera type of afraid.
Some can say that Bailey was never really tested in the A.L. West, with the A's playing teams like the then offensively challenged Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Seattle Mariners multiple times a year. He can't possibly pitch the same way in the big bad A.L. East, with teams like the Yankees and Rays waiting to eat him up, right? Not so fast.
Take a look at Andrew's numbers against arguably the toughest division in baseball:
Andrew Bailey Career vs. New York Yankees: six saves, six chances with a 3.27 ERA.
Andrew Bailey Career vs. Tampa Bay Rays: four saves, four chances with a 1.50 ERA.
Andrew Bailey Career vs. Toronto Blue Jays: five saves, five chances with a 0.00 ERA.
Andrew Bailey Career vs. Baltimore Orioles: six saves, six chances with a 1.74 ERA.
Bailey actually had trouble against an A.L. East not listed, but he now pitches for that team. But when looking at these numbers, who says this guy cant pitch in the A.L. East? Yeesh.
Now let's focus on the clear change of scenery for Bailey from small-market Oakland to big-market Boston.
I could really understand the struggles one may have from transitioning from a team that had an average attendance of 18,232 fans per game and a city that didn't much care for baseball, to a team that sells out every game and a city that eat, sleeps and breathes baseball in the summer. However, it's been done before by many current and retired Boston pitchers.
Curt Schilling went from a small market in Arizona to being one of the most revered pitchers in Red Sox history. Josh Beckett has done a pretty good job transitioning from a small baseball market in Florida to a big one in Boston. Heck, even the man Jonathan Papelbon replaced, Keith Foulke did pretty well when he was healthy, and after being traded from Oakland. Foulke, pitched the very best season of his career as the Boston closer in 2004, and ultimately helped them win the World Series that year.
Bailey's also got an advantage in terms of where he grew up. After being born near the biggest marketable baseball team in Haddonfield, New Jersey, just a few minutes away from Yankee stadium, he knows what it's like being around a big market team. He's been waiting for this moment his whole life, now he's gonna get.
With the big-market craving Bailey a proven All-Star closer that has been successful in the A.L. East and reportedly able to pitch ahead of schedule and with no pain, he truly will be a force to be reckoned with out of the Red Sox bullpen. In fact, the only thing that Sox fans really need to worry about is what Bailey's into song will be.
They way he's gonna pitch in Boston, the classic Cheap Trick song "Gonna Raise Hell" sounds appropriate.