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Baltimore - He pitched to just two batters, walking one and striking out the other in a mop-up eighth inning role, but Boston Red Sox reliever Andrew Bailey couldn't have been more excited.
It was during Tuesday's 7-1 loss at Camden Yards against the Baltimore Orioles that the former graduate of Paul VI High in Camden County, N.J., made his long-awaited 2012 major-league debut with his new team.
Bailey had been expected to be the Red Sox closer after being acquired in the offseason from the Oakland A's in a five-player deal.
Instead, late in spring training Bailey tore a ligament in his right thumb and underwent surgery on April 4.
After six minor-league rehab appearances, Bailey returned to the big leagues.
"It's been a long time coming for sure and it was very frustrating sitting out and watching other guys perform," Bailey said before Thursday's 6-3 win over the Orioles. "You are rooting for teammates and want to get out there just as much."
Yet for Bailey, the inactivity period is behind him.
"I never wanted to dwell on the fact that I was not pitching and had to keep pushing and understand that the day would come when I would rejoin the team," he said.
That day is here, although the Red Sox, on the heels of a free fall from the playoff race with a 7-20 September last year, haven't been much better this season.
After Thursday, they were still 6½ games out of a wild-card berth. Even though the team has denied a recent Yahoo report that players went to management requesting that manager Bobby Valentine get canned, there always seems to be controversy, whether perceived or real, coming out of Red Sox Nation.
"Whatever is going on inside or outside the clubhouse, you just have to go out and do your job," Bailey said. "At the end of the day, we are the ones performing and have to do our job."
It's possible that since he played in Oakland, not the highest-profile baseball market, that some of Bailey's previous pitching exploits went slightly under the radar, even though he has been a two-time all-star and the 2009 American League rookie of the year.
In his first three major-league seasons, Bailey converted 75 of 84 saves (89.3 percent) while posting a 2.07 ERA. That was the third-highest save percentage in the AL (minimum 40 chances) and the second-lowest ERA among relievers (minimum 125 innings).
Right now, his role isn't yet defined, but Valentine surely has big plans for the 6-foot-3, 240-pound righthander.
"Hopefully, he will work in situations where he is used in winning games," Valentine said. "He is a great guy with great energy and I am sure he will be a big plus."
Despite his summer of activity, this has been a special time for Bailey. On July 2, his wife Amanda gave birth to daughter Theordora Grace, the couple's first child.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," he said about being a father.
As for pitching, Bailey says there are no limitations. His arm feels good. In his six rehab appearances covering 61/3 innings, he struck out 10 and had a 1.42 ERA.
Now he hopes to make up for lost time after missing the first 116 games. While some may shy away from performing in Boston, where the fan base is as ardent as any in the big leagues, Bailey loves the passion.
"We had great fans in Oakland, but the difference is you have Boston fans everywhere you go and that is why it's a (Red Sox) nation," he said. It's awesome and what you want to play for, playing in a big market, a big city and all that pressure on you."
Bailey loves the pressure and more important, the ability to compete as he and the Red Sox try to salvage a season of frustration to this point.