BOSTON - Andrew Bailey has converted six of seven saves this season for the Boston Red Sox.
Strangely, the one blown save might have been the biggest blessing of all in Boston this season.
The save opportunity, Bailey's first of the season, came on the infamous afternoon of April 15 just before two bombs exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line. He had been restored to the closer's role in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays because of an elbow injury to teammate Joel Hanrahan.
Tampa Bay scored in the top of the ninth on an RBI single by Ben Zobrist and the Red Sox won in the bottom of the inning on a walk-off double by Mike Napoli.
"I have had people say to me that they were thankful for the blown save because they might have been at the finish line when the bombs went off," said Bailey, a South Jersey native from Haddon Heights who starred at Paul VI High School.
The game ended at 2:08 p.m. and the explosions occurred 41 minutes later. It's about a 1.2-mile walk from Fenway Park to the marathon finish line and it is a walk that many Red Sox fans make on Patriots Day.
The marathon tragedy was the latest in a series of dramatic events on and off the field for Bailey since he was acquired by the Red Sox in December 2011. A two-time all-star who will turn 29 on Friday, Bailey learned last season that the tools of his trade can betray you at any time.
After he was acquired to replace Jonathan Papelbon as Boston's closer in 2012, Bailey suffered a thumb injury in spring training that required surgery. He did not return until mid-August and pitched in only 19 games, posting a 7.04 ERA during a disastrous Red Sox season.
"Very frustrating," Bailey said.
More of that frustration has visited him this season. He recently returned from another trip to the disabled list after a bout with biceps tendinitis.
"It really makes you appreciate your good health," Bailey said.
Bailey has a 1.88 ERA, and the Red Sox have a one-game lead over the Yankees in the American League East after Monday night's win over the Phillies.
"The last couple of years I've had to work my butt off to get back here, and now I try to take everything in," he said last week. "You really don't know when this game is going to end. That being said, I'm hoping to get everything out of the way as far as the freak injuries with my thumb and some different things. Some things you can't change, so you deal with it, move on, and get the frustration out."
Papelbon pitched brilliantly during his six seasons as Boston's closer, but Bailey said he has not felt any pressure in replacing the franchise's all-time saves leader because the Red Sox are a different team than they used to be.
"I think the organization knows I can do the job," he said. "I don't think they would have made the trade for me if they didn't think I was capable. I know what I'm capable of, and they have that same feeling. For me, last year was very frustrating, knowing what I can do. And I wasn't able to do that. I've had to fight those emotions. That's always been the biggest thing - being on the field.
"The pressure of replacing Pap, I didn't feel that. I know the team that they had here when they won the World Series has kind of moved on and we've brought in some character guys here and team guys. As a whole, we have something special going and we want to keep rolling with it."
Off the field, Bailey also has been going through a lot. His wife, Amanda, gave birth to the couple's first child, Theodora, last July. The baby girl was born more than a month premature and remained in the hospital until early September.
The Baileys bought a house in Connecticut last summer not far from Newtown, where the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings that left 20 children and six adults dead occurred.
"That's something as a parent you could never fathom," he said. "I had an opportunity to go work a baseball clinic there. What I can offer is expertise in a sport. And if you can get kids out for a couple of hours and take them away from some things - that's what I could do to help."