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Mets' Bay is a sneaky, successful thief

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Shhh . . . Jason Bay has a secret.

Did you know he steals bases? He does. Not too often, but when he tries, he generally makes it.

"Usually," he said, "when I break, I'm like, 'I got it.' "

In 2005, he tried it 22 times. Made it on 21. In 2006, he stole 11, was caught twice. In 2007, only five attempts. Made it four times. 2008: 10-for-10. Last season: 13-for-16.

That's 59 steals, seven caught stealings in his last five seasons - a success rate of 89.3 percent.

For comparison, Jose Reyes stole 56 bases in his last full season (2008) and was caught 15 times. That's 78.9 percent.

Bay's agent, Joe Urbon, included Bay's stolen-base proficiency in a binder he used to market the slugging leftfielder during the free-agent shopping period.

So how much of the guaranteed $66 million from the Mets was because of his wheels?

"Zero, probably," Bay said.

Bay is self-deprecating about his stolen bases - "Most of the time when I'm going, it's a good indication a guy has forgotten about you at first base," he said - but it's a skill he takes seriously.

The 31-year-old makes a mental note of how long it takes each pitcher/catcher combo to deliver the ball from the mound to the plate and then to second on steal attempts. That information is available to players in their pre-series meetings. Bay actually pays attention to it.

"Guys like Reyes, they don't have to listen because they can run on anybody," he said. "I'm one of the guys that has to listen. When you're not the fastest guy, you have to be smart about it. I don't have enough speed to get me into trouble. If a guy's real quick to the plate and you've got a good catcher back there, I know today's not going to be my day.

"I might even be limiting myself a little bit because a lot of the times I pick my spots where I feel like I'm going to be most successful, whereas sometimes, if you just push the envelope, I'm going to get caught a few more times. But I could also easily have a lot more - well, not a lot more - but a few more stolen bases. It's a blessing and a curse."

Mets manager Jerry Manuel said he is aware of Bay's thieving ability and would like to see him try it a little more, even if he doesn't make it nearly 90 percent of the time.

Manuel also would like to see Carlos Beltran - career percentage of 88.2 - steal more often, but Beltran is quite stubborn about not going unless he knows he's going to make it. Plus he's injured.

"I'm not concerned about the percentages," Manuel said of Bay. "I like the aggressiveness at the right time. I think he understands that. But I think as he continues to get this type of exposure, they'll tend to play more attention to him, and then it becomes a little more difficult for him."

There's the problem: If he tries it more, teams won't fall asleep on him as much. Plus Bay is being paid to slug, not scamper.

Still . . .

"I've thought about it," he said. "Every year it's actually one of the things I come to spring training and people ask, 'What do you work on?' I say, 'I want to get back to stealing more bases.' For the type of guy I am, it's a part of my game. It's just not a big part of my game."

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