Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bard passes first postseason test

Much will be made, probably, of the contrast between the way Daniel Bard pitched on Sunday and the way Jonathan Papelbon pitched on Sunday.

Bard bailed Clay Buchholz out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning, inducing a double-play ball from Juan Rivera and a pop fly to shortstop from Cesar Izturis to retire the side with only one run scoring. He then set down the side in order in the seventh inning, striking out Mike Napoli and Chone Figgins in the process.

Papelbon, of course, did not fare as well.

The Red Sox, though, are unlikely to do what fans (and some analysts) already are calling for them to do: Unload Papelbon and replace him as closer with Bard, the rookie with the electric arm.

For one thing, it's not absurd to speculate that the Red Sox might still try to turn Bard back into a starting pitcher. The righty came out of college as a starting pitcher and failed miserably in his first season as a pro, but his struggles had plenty to do with changes to his mechanics -- and might not have had much to do with an inability to be a starter. Considering how much more valuable a starter is than a reliever, it might be worth a shot.

For another thing, Papelbon still has a sensational track record. He now has made 18 appearances in the postseason and has held opponents without a run in 17 of them. He has a 1.84 career ERA in the regular season -- including a 1.85 ERA in what many believed to be his worst season. He issued three times as many walks this season as he did last season, but he managed to allow four fewer earned runs then he did a year ago.

And one disaster doesn't have to become a trend: The season after Dennis Eckersley gave up his famous home run to Kirk Gibson, he had a 1.56 ERA in 57 2/3 innings. The season after that, he had a 0.61 ERA in 73 1/3 innings and won the Cy Young Award.

With the way Bard pitched on Sunday, though, it's hard to blame fans for starting to imagine him as the team's future relief ace.

He relieved Buchholz after the Red Sox's No. 3 starter had loaded the bases with a four-pitch walk. It was far from the best situation for a rookie reliever to make his second career postseason appearance.

That's not, however, how Bard looked at it.

"A lot of people say they don't like bases loaded and no outs -- but you can really only succeed," he said. "You're expected to give up two or three runs there. To get out with zero or one, you're kind of set up to succeed."

Bard actually immediately got behind Rivera, the first hitter he faced with the bases loaded. But he painted the corner with a 98-mile-per-hour fastball down and away, a confident pitch in a tough spot, and he came back with a 100-mile-per-hour fastball in on the hands that Rivera grounded to Mike Lowell to start a double play.

Bard then hit 101 miles an hour -- on the TBS gun and the Gameday gun, anyway -- on his first pitch to Macier Izturis. His second pitch came in at a meager 99 miles an hour, and Izturis popped it to short left field. Inning over.

Bard then set down Mike Napoli, Erick Aybar and Chone Figgins in short order in the seventh inning, fanning Napoli and getting Aybar to ground out before Figgins strode to the plate.

At that point, Kevin Youkilis wandered over from first base for a word or two with Bard. A piece of advice about attacking Figgins, perhaps?

"I was going to my mouth too much," Bard said. "The umpire, I think, said something to him. The ball was so dry, I was doing everything I could to get some moisture on it."

Bard, chastened, proceeded to get Figgins to wave at a changeup and wave at a fastball and, three pitches later, to strike him out looking on a nasty back-door slider. He finished his first career postseason with a 0.00 ERA and four strikeouts in three innings pitched -- and that's on top of a regular season in which he compiled a 3.65 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 49 1/3 innings.

Still, though, he wasn't exactly doing cartwheels. He has higher aspirations than a solid year as a middle reliever.

"I tend to have a higher expectation of myself than other people do," he said. "Especially being a pitcher -- we're all perfectionists. I expect a lot out of myself. But it was a good year, and I learned a lot."

1 comment:

floydiansea said...

The Red Sox may be out ... but boy, they really don't have anything to feel bad about. That was a heck of an interesting season. Got to tip the hat to them.