BOSTON -- For someone who was told last December that he was losing his role as Red Sox closer, Andrew Bailey somehow already has five saves in a season that isn't even a month old.
Bailey, who lost the ninth-inning responsibilities when the Sox made a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates to get Joel Hanrahan, has filled in the last week while Hanrahan recovers from a strained hamstring and pitched as though he never left.
He struck out the side in the ninth inning Wednesday to help the Sox secure a 6-5 win over the Oakland A's, Bailey's former team. It was the third save of the homestand for Bailey and fifth dating back to last Wednesday in Cleveland.
"Everybody wants to be the closer and everyone wants to pitch the ninth inning," said Bailey, "and right now that's my job. Unfortunately Joel went down (with an injury) but he'll be back soon. It's not my decision to make, but I was brought in to do a job last year and an injury got in the way and I wasn't able to do that.
"My goal was staying out in the field (healthy) this year. They know what I can do. It's just nice to be back out there, getting wins. We're off to a great start and the team's playing well. That's really all that matters."
Bailey's first season with the Sox was one he'd like to forget. Days before the season began, he underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb, causing him to miss the first 4 1/2 months. When he returned, he wasn't himself, with two crash-and-burn blown saves in Tampa Bay and New York in the final weeks of the season.
Then came the phone call near Christmas that the Sox were, say, "going in another direction" with the closer's spot.
From the start of spring training, Bailey vowed to contribute any way he could to the bullpen, and indeed, for the first two weeks, pitched well in the set-up role. Then, when Hanrahan imploded because of the hamstring, Bailey calmly reassumed his old role and sparkled.
Since blowing a lead in the ninth on the fateful Patriots Day matinee, Bailey is 5-for-5 in save opportunities, treating the ninth inning no differently than he had the eighth.
"For me," he said, "it's a job. You have to go out there and throw up a zero, no matter what inning it is. Of course, there's going to be a little more adrenaline (in the ninth), but I'm a high-energy guy out there anyway, so whether it's the eighth or ninth, I take the same mentality out there."
Bailey's fastball is back to the mid-90s, and yesterday, facing an Oakland team that was familiar with him, wasn't afraid to go to breaking balls to put away two of the three hitters he faced.
"When you can throw something else for a strike, especially late in the count," said Bailey, "they can't be sitting fastball."
"The last few appearances in save situations,'' said John Farrell, "he's done an outstanding job in key spots. The energy, the aggressive with which he pitches, he's able to channel that in the right direction. He's done an outstanding job in that closer's role for us.''
The job is temporary. Hanrahan should be active, if not by Saturday, then certainly, by the time the team starts a road trip in Toronto Tuesday.
"Everybody wants to be the closer and wants to pitch the ninth inning," said Bailey. "Right now, I'm the guy."
For which the Red Sox are grateful.