Bay breaks out in a big way vs. Cubs
Left fielder sparks offense with homer and four RBIs
PITTSBURGH -- It's usually not a good sign for a slumping slugger to look at the mound and see the other team's ace on the hill. But it worked out fine for Jason Bay on Sunday.
Bay drilled a two run homer off Carlos Zambrano in the third on Sunday, added a two-run single off reliever Bob Howry in the eighth, and the Bucs got another quality start from Shane Youman as they beat the Cubs, 6-2, in front of 22,470 fans at PNC Park. The win gave the Bucs a 7-3 homestand and their fourth straight series win to end the first half.
It also could be a watershed moment in Bay's season. He homered for the first time since June 22, and had multiple hits for the first time since June 21. He had gone just 18-for-120 for a .150 average in June and July.
"Every hitter goes through something like that," manager Jim Tracy said. "They get into ruts, but you know ... they're going to take a swing and something is going to click to say, 'Oh yeah, that's what it was.'"
Bay said that swing happened on his home run in the third. The key was that he didn't try to do too much with the pitch and wasn't pressing to break out of the slump with a big hit.
"It just takes one good hit or two good hits to get that monkey off your back and let you relax," Bay said. "I hit that home run and ... it kind of just got the weight off you a little bit. After that, I felt a lot more relaxed at the plate, I felt like things normally do."
Bay has hurt Zambrano throughout his career, hitting at a .364 clip with five home runs and 16 RBIs lifetime against the right-hander. Still, Bay wasn't looking forward to facing Zambrano, and said he has been "OK" against the Cubs ace since he homered twice and had eight RBIs off him in a game in Sept. 19, 2003.
"He's not the type of pitcher that you enjoy facing. He's not the type of guy you want to face," Bay said. "It just so happens that I got that home run."
Bay may not be thinking much about his success off Zambrano, but Zambrano certainly is. After Bay's eight-RBIs performance against him in 2003, he put Bay's baseball card in his locker as motivation. Zambrano was frustrated that Bay got to him again.
"I either strike him out or he hits a home run," Zambrano said. "He's a good hitter. You can't make a mistake against good hitters. They make you pay."
Bay's offensive outburst provided plenty of support for Youman, who gave up two earned runs in six innings and earned the win for the second straight start since he was called up from Triple-A.
Youman worked himself into a jam when he loaded the bases with nobody out in the second, but he gave up just a sacrifice fly to Angel Pagan and escaped the inning down only 1-0.
"I just was thinking damage control, make the guys swing the bats and get some outs without too much happening," Youman said.
He cruised until the sixth, when Mark DeRosa's RBI double pushed across the Cubs' final tally of the afternoon.
"I was able to change speeds real well and keep those guys off balance a little bit, especially the big hitters," Youman said. "I was able to get ground balls and get guys to pop it up at crucial times in the game."
Youman handed the bullpen a 3-2 lead, and Shawn Chacon and Matt Capps combined to pitch three scoreless innings of relief to preserve the win. It was a win that gave the Bucs crucial momentum heading into the break, as they closed out the first half with series wins over the first-place Brewers and second-place Cubs, and are now nine games behind Milwaukee.
It was also a great time for Bay to break out of his slump. Bay said that he was glad to have something good to think about heading into the break.
"I wouldn't write my ticket to the Hall of Fame after this game just yet, but it feels a lot better going into three or four days off having gotten some timely hits and helped the team," Bay said. "This is huge for me."
Jeremy Anders is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.