BOSTON -- In a matter of moments, Fenway Park watched Andrew Bailey go from a man full of confidence to one doubled over in disappointment.
Entering into the game with a one-run lead in the seventh inning, Bailey took over for Allen Webster and immediately struck out both leadoff man Jose Reyes and slugger Jose Bautista using overpowering fastballs.
After punching out Bautista, Bailey unleashed a fist pump that spun his body like a top. For the reliever who has struggled for the last three weeks, this looked like the night when things might start to turn around. Over the course of those two batters Fenway watched him re-discover his stuff and regain his swagger.
Then, in a flash, they left him again. On his second pitch to Edwin Encarnacion, Bailey gave up a towering solo home run to straightaway centerfield. The game was tied, 5-5, and Bailey bent over at the waist, staring at the ground, wondering how things fell apart so quickly.
"This is a very frustrating time," Bailey said. "But I know I still have confidence. I'm not going to change anything out there. Obviously, execute pitches a little bit better, but that's really all I have to change. I'll get out of this for sure."
Andrew Miller finished off the inning without allowing another run. Then, in the bottom half of the seventh, Jonny Gomes knocked a go-ahead RBI single, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia walked with the bases loaded to stake the Sox to a 7-5 win, taking Bailey off the hook.
It's become something of a trend. Since June 10, Bailey has allowed at least one run in six of his seven appearances. The Sox have still gone on to win four of those games.
"These guys have been picking me up, on the field, but off the field as well," Bailey said. "It really challenges your character when you're struggling. Just gotta keep grinding and get back out there. John [Farrell]'s showed faith in me in putting me in these situations. Obviously, I've had success in these situations in my career so I just gotta get back to challenging guys and getting outs.
"Today wasn't fun, but I got two outs. That's a step in the right direction from where it was for a while. We'll get there."
In the month of June, Bailey's ERA is 10.13, and he's having trouble keeping the ball in the ballpark. He's allowed homers in four of his last five outings, and Encarnacion's blast was his seventh home run allowed this season. He allowed just six in all of 2010 and 2011.
Still, Farrell said after the game he was encouraged by what he saw from Bailey before allowing the home run.
"Better stuff," Farrell said. "We saw the swing and miss to the fastball up, that’s somewhat been his trademark, so there’s better life up through the zone."
Farrell noted that Bailey might have pitched Encarnacion differently -- perhaps less aggressively -- had he approached that at-bat as a middle reliever and not a closer.
"I’m sure that if he re-thought it, he might think a little bit differently, knowing that we had Miller ready to go for the lefties behind him," Farrell said. "That might be a little bit different mindset for him in the role that he’s in right now. Where as a closer, as successful as he’s been in the past, it’s always on the attack mode rather than managing the lineup. But I thought the two first hitters he faced, very encouraging."
Bailey chose to focus on the positives of those two strikeouts rather than dwelling on the bad pitch that ended his night. He felt his velocity was better (his fastball hit 96 miles-per-hour) and that he had some life on his pitches he hadn't seen in recent outings.
"I felt great tonight," Bailey said. "I threw some quality pitches and got the first two guys. You know, you gotta learn from your mistakes. And if you dwell on them, you'll take that in your next outing. I'll be ready to go tomorrow. Just remember the first two hitters."
The difference between Bailey's first two hitters and his third represent the range of highs and lows that are facts of life for major-league relievers. But rarely do they come in such shattering rapid succession as they did on Friday night.
Despite the result, Bailey insists he remains confident.
"I have all the confidence in the world to go out there and continue to throw strikes and get people out," he said. "Like I said, it's been a rough couple outings, and I just gotta keep grinding. I know I can get the job done."