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New Met Bay insists his knees are fine
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.If anyone has the right genetic coding for New York, it’s Jason Bay — friendly and thick-skinned, already trained in the rigors of big-market insanity. Call him the anti-Randy Johnson, which in the Big Apple, represents a compliment.
Who could forget the Big Unit’s introduction to the Yankees in 2005, when, just two days after his arrival, he shoved a cameraman who happened to get too close?
The wound never entirely healed, as Johnson soon discovered the city was too loud, too nosy, much too in-his-face. Even though Johnson won 34 games in two seasons with the Yankees, the future Hall of Famer hated every minute of it.
Which brings us to Bay and that wide open-space called the rest of his career. He’s starting a four-year marriage with the Mets, and he says he’s ready for the baggage that comes with it. That includes the residue of last year’s 92-loss season and the win-or-else pressure that hangs over the franchise. A slow start could ultimately cost manager Jerry Manuel and GM Omar Minaya their jobs.
Bay is fine with all of it. He just needs to clear up one lingering issue: His knees are not on the verge of collapse.
This is a matter of huge concern to the Mets, who lost virtually most of their stars in 2009 to injury and are without Carlos Beltran until May. The Mets’ medical staff misdiagnosed Beltran and Jose Reyes last summer and still owes Ryan Church an apology for allowing him to board a coast-to-coast flight after being diagnosed with a concussion in 2008.
So for Bay to say he’s healthy isn’t just a spring formality — it cuts to a core issue for him, the Mets and his former employers, the Red Sox. Ever since he joined the Mets, Bay has been denying a whispering campaign about his knees, which started when the Red Sox insisted he undergo surgery as a prerequisite to a new contract this offseason.
Bay refused, went looking for another team and ultimately signed with the Mets, who saw nothing wrong with his MRIs. We know what you’re thinking: a clean bill of health from the Mets’ medical staff is as reassuring as an IOU from Lenny Dykstra. But Bay sought the opinion of two non-affiliated doctors, who sided with the Mets, not the Red Sox.
So where did the dispute originate? Red Sox team physician Thomas Gill was troubled by what he saw in Bay’s knees, even though Bay has insisted all along, “I feel fine.”
Gill, however, believed otherwise, and in this case, his opinion outweighed Bay’s. The doctor gained ownership’s trust after correctly predicting Pedro Martinez would experience shoulder problems after 2005 — he pitched only a year and a half for the Mets before going on the disabled list. Gill was also responsible for the protective language in John Lackey’s contract.
The Sox now hold the hammer with Lackey, who has been on the DL twice in the past two years with elbow trouble. If the right-hander undergoes surgery at any time while he’s under contract to the Sox (five years), the team can force him to pitch a sixth year at the major-league minimum salary.
The fact that Lackey agreed to the deal only strengthened Gill’s credibility and presented Bay with a choice: Either cave in to the Sox’s terms or play elsewhere in 2010.
“If I’d agreed to that, it would’ve been an admission that I agreed with what (Gill) was saying, and I absolutely did not,” Bay said this week. “If I’d been painted into a corner, maybe things would’ve been different. But since I was a free agent, I decided to go look at other options.”
Bay chose the Mets, who not only outbid Boston in a four-year, $66 million deal, but also didn’t ask that Bay submit to surgery or accept punitive clauses related to time on the DL.
A Mets official said the team was aware of the Red Sox’s concerns and had their doctors “look hard” for any telltale decay. None was found.
Jason Bay signs autographs for fans during spring training in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
“Everything came back clean,” the official said of Bay’s MRIs.
Although Bay is aware of the obvious drawbacks in 2010 — it’ll be harder to hit home runs at Citi Field than at Fenway, and he’ll have more ground to cover in the gaps — he says there has been no culture shock in wearing a Mets uniform.
Bay specifically disputes Peter Gammons’ on-air assertion that the slugger stalled in talks with the Mets because he would’ve rather played “in Beirut” before moving to Flushing.
“I like Peter; I don’t think he meant anything malicious about it, but what he said was just one more thing that I’ve had to deal with that wasn’t true,” Bay said.
“I’m happy with the Mets. I’ve been here less than a week, and it feels like I’ve been part of this team for five months. The atmosphere is great, and I have to say, playing in Boston has prepared me for the media, the market, the team.”
The goal, Bay says, is run production and at least league-average defense. But Bay wouldn’t mind having a last laugh on the Red Sox and, specifically, Dr. Gill. That means staying off the DL, not to mention the operating table.
SANTANA’S STEADY CLIMB
Thursday was an important day for the Mets, as Johan Santana threw a simulated game to hitters. He faced only two batters, Josh Thole and Rod Barajas, but felt so free and easy in a 45-pitch outing, he was able to command his previously diminished slider.
Santana, on the mend after elbow surgery, said last year’s pain kept him from full extension upon release. That made it easier for hitters to detect his signature pitch, the change-up, and flattened out his slider.
That might explain why Santana all but abandoned the pitch in 2009, throwing it just 9.4 percent of the time. In 2002, Santana threw sliders 26.9 percent of the time.
“It’s good to see the action on my slider,” Santana said after the workout. “I’m finally able to extend my arm and get the ball out in front of me again.”