TORONTO -- When he missed the first three-quarters of the season, only to return and find that his team was inexorably drifting out of playoff contention, it surely must have felt to Andrew Bailey that his first season in Boston was a lost one.
A freak collision and fall in spring training resulted in a torn ligament in his right thumb, a date with the surgeon in early April and many weeks and months of frustration.
Now, however, Bailey is intent on making up for lost time. No matter what he does, of course, he's not about to get the Red Sox back into the playoff chase. But by finishing strong in the final six weeks, he can salvage this year and set a foundation for 2013.
On Saturday, he closed out his second game in as many days, and his fourth since returning from the DL. In eight of his last nine outings and 11 of his 13 overall, he's unscored upon.
"I wish I had him all year, that's all I know,'' said Bobby Valentine of his closer. "His curveball's coming along. He's pitching with confidence. He's not afraid to challenge a hitter. It's good to see him. He's throwing the ball well.''
Indeed, for someone who didn't pitch in a major league game until mid-August this season, Bailey looks remarkably locked in.
"Definitely,'' agreed Bailey. "The rehab assignement was like spring training (all over) again. And it was nice the way that Bobby used me in the beginning -- one-third (of an inning) or two-thirds, kind of getting my feet wet. Looking back, that was pretty good. I feel pretty good now - no problems whatsoever and no issues across the board.''
In a sense, Bailey's return couldn't have been timed better. Alfredo Aceves, his replacement in the closer's role, was faltering as Bailey came back and a tantrum when he got passed over for a closing opportunity in favor of Bailey seemed to seal his fate.
Ever since, Bailey has handled the final three outs in the few games in which the Sox have led.
"Any inning you pitch, you have to have that (closer) mentality,'' he said. "The name of the game is scoring runs and we've got to put up zeroes. That's the mentality I have, no mattter what inning I pitch. But it's just nice to get back in those situations and have that adrenaline rush again and have the game on the line and the ball in your hand.''
Closing games has never been the issue for Bailey; staying healthy has been. He's spent time on the DL in each of the last four seasons. But when he's been able to pitch, he's been remarkably consistent: he's converted 79 of his 88 save chances in his major league career, a conversion rate of better than 90 percent.
"For me,'' he said, "injuries are terrible and very frustrating. But you have to keep on looking forward and realize that the day that you're active and helping the team win ballgames will come. That's what I'm doing know.
"It's going out there and getting as many innings as I can and getting my work in. I'm staying focused on this year, but also getting that work in for next year as well.''
Somewhat to his surprise, his curve -- a feel pitch which takes time to develop even under the best of circumstances -- has come around quicker than expected. Even his fastball, which he normally throws 92-94 mph, has a bit of extra zip.
None of that will help the Red Sox in the here and now. The Red Sox season itself was lost before Bailey could arrive to help. But wins like the ones he and they picked up Friday and Saturday go a little way in erasing the frustration.