June 8, 2006
By Owen Perkins / MLB.com writer
DENVER -- When people use the word "streak" in the same sentence as "Jason Bay" lately, there's usually been a third phrase included: "home runs."
Bay went on a tear in May, homering in six consecutive games as he built on a strong season that finds him hitting over .300 with 18 homers and 48 RBIs entering Wednesday's play.
But over the past season and a half, Bay has quietly built another streak that is even more indicative of his work ethic and his character as a player than his offensive numbers can fully illustrate.
Bay is currently fourth among active players with a streak of 249 consecutive games played. Okay, Cal Ripken is not looking over his shoulder yet, with over 2,000 games separating Bay from Ripken's all-time mark, and Miguel Tejada, first among active players, has a comfortable edge of 729 games on Bay, but in terms of the desire to be on the field every day on behalf of his teammates, Bay is second to none.
"I'm here," Bay said before Wednesday's game. "If I'm going to show up at the yard every day, I might as well play.
"I take a lot of pride in going out there every day," Bay added. "I'm not trying to set a record. I'm young enough, and hopefully when I'm a little older I'll get a day off here and there, but for now, I've just done it and it's just normal."
After missing time early in 2004 with a shoulder injury, Bay grew accustomed to the occasional day off as he tried to keep his shoulder fresh that season, but since missing an early September start against Roger Clemens that year, Bay hasn't missed a game. He played 162 in 2005, and nobody tried to convince him he needed to take a rest. Hitting .306 on the season with 32 homers and 101 RBIs represents exactly the kind of consistency a manager wants in his lineup.
There are managers, however, who prefer to nip streaks like Bay's in the bud before allowing them to take on a life of their own. Pirates skipper Jim Tracy never managed a player who was in the lineup every day during his five-year tenure in Los Angeles, though Shawn Green played 161 in 2001. But Tracy finds it easy to envision saving a spot for Bay in each day's lineup card.
"In just the short time I've been around this young man, I've gained the ultimate respect for him as a player and as a person," Tracy said. "You now are to the point where I feel very strongly that you show the respect to the player. You allow the player to have input as to how he's feeling. This is a two-way street when you involve yourself in a conversation about that."
Bay doesn't anticipate any anxiety when the day comes that he eventually sits on the bench and watches his teammates take the field without him.
"If there's a situation where I'm struggling or if I'm not going to help the team, there's no reason why I should be in there just so I can play another game," he emphasized. "I'll take a day off. At this point, we haven't gotten there."
Having hit in 15 of the last 16 games while compiling a .400 average (24-for-60) with nine homers and 20 RBIs through Wednesday's play, Bay shows no signs of slowing down.
"There's days when you're dinged up, this is stiff or that, and you're like, 'Hey, I need a day,'" Bay said. "But I look at it like I owe it to my teammates to go out there and bust my butt, and I do."