By late Wednesday night, after 14 innings of futility in the desert, the even-keeled Jason Bay had capsized. It was a bleary-eyed Bay who faced reporters in front of his locker as the Mets hurriedly packed around him, and he looked about as lost as he had all season.
"When you deal with a lot of adversity, it tests you a little bit," Bay said. "I'm doing the only thing I know how - to keep battling and hope the game repays you. But right now it's a struggle."
Manager Jerry Manuel chose to sit Bay for last night's series opener at Dodger Stadium. Bay went 0-for-6 in Wednesday's 4-3, 14-inning loss to the Diamondbacks - which ended at 2:25 a.m. EDT - and struck out in his final four at-bats.
Perhaps one small consolation is that Bay stranded only two runners, which occurred in the first inning. After that, the Mets didn't put anyone on base in front of him. Still, the 0-for-6 dropped Bay to 4-for-36 (.111) with no RBIs in his last 10 games. He's batting .169 (10-for-59) in 16 games in July, with only two extra-base hits and 20 strikeouts.
Before last night's game, Manuel even took it a step further, saying he needs to re-evaluate Bay during an early batting practice session Friday to decide whether to play him later that night. That suggested Bay could get an extended stay on the bench, if the manager deems it necessary.
"We're going to try and see if Jason can just find his way," Manuel said. "We're going to stay out here until the process is right. I think he is a guy with a different type of set up, a different type of swing that it's almost more feel than mechanics. I just think it's a feel for him, and that's what we're going to try to find. Were' going to try to find what's his feel and do it until we get it right."
As the slide deepened Wednesday, the growing frustration was more obvious than usual with Bay, who uncharacteristically began flipping his bat with increasing distance after each strikeout. By then, it became apparent that he needed a mental break.
"There would be better games to go 14 innings - like games where you have five hits," Bay said. "But I kind of felt like every at-bat was a chance to make a difference or to break out of it. You can beat yourself up if you want or you can turn the entire day around with one at-bat. That's the way I was taking it, and it didn't work out that way."
Manuel thought the All-Star break would be a difference-maker for Bay, a chance to forget the bleaker memories of the first half and start fresh. The manager believed in that so strongly that he gave Bay the day off in the final game before the break, which also happened to be his bobblehead day at Citi Field.
That was an odd coincidence. But after trying everything to uncover the real Jason Bay, the $66-million slugger, Manuel has run out of answers. When it comes to Bay, he's not even sure about the questions.
"Yeah, I am somewhat surprised," he said. "I really thought this was a good opportunity to kind of get away from the pressures and anxiety that he had in New York . . . I'm really somewhat baffled at the struggles that he's having right now. But I still feel he has enough season left to put together a good streak."
Bay has carried that "streaky" label for his entire career, and the numbers back that up. With the Mets, however, he has trended downward. Bay hit 36 home runs last season and currently has six.
Perhaps Bay's power numbers of a year ago were a byproduct of hitting in the potent Red Sox lineup, and maybe he's wobbling under the weight of the Mets' offensive woes.
"It's not just Jason," David Wright said. "Right now it's the whole lineup. Of course Jason wants to do well and wants to go out there and produce. He's in a little stretch right now where obviously he's not swinging the bat all that well. But he's the type of hitter, when he gets hot, he gets hot for an extended period of time. He can put a team on his shoulders and carry them."
But not lately, and not this season.