OAKLAND, Calif. -- Clay Buchholz had hit the proverbial wall, having thrown 103 pitches, loading the bases with two consecutive walks, and placing the Red Sox' bid for their first road win of the season in jeopardy.
And here was the biggest problem: it was only the sixth inning, far too soon to go to closer Jonathan Papelbon, and yet too risky to trust to the team's group of middle relievers.
Daniel Bard, then, to the rescue.
Bard inheirted a bases-loaded, one-out jam, with the Oakland A's threatening to dismantle the three-run lead the Red Sox had at the time. He struck out Cliff Pennington, then retired Coco Crisp on a flyout, leaving the baserunners exactly where they were when he entered the game.
Just for good measure, Bard added a scoreless seventh inning, leaving only six outs for Bobby Jenks and Papelbon to record. As it turned out, both late-inning relievers allowed a run each, but Bard had steered the Sox through the biggest threat of the afternoon.
"That was the game right there,'' marveled Terry Francona after the 5-3 win was in the books. "You've heard me talk about it, time and time again - the game can be won in the sixth or seventh. For me, that was it. He came in and stopped it. That's what he's there for.
"It's a big weapon. That's what it is. We have the ability to pitch him with the game on the line and he's one of the best in the league. He can get left-handers, he can obviously get right-handers. He holds runners . . . With runners on base, that's who we want to bring in.''
Whenever Papelbon falters, fans clamor for a job switch in the Red Sox bullpen, clamoring for Bard to become closer with Papelbon shifted to a set-up role.
But that ignores the fact that each is probably better suited for their present role. And it also glosses over how demanding Bard's job is.
While Papelbon often has the luxury of starting an inning clean -- i.e., with no baserunners -- and in possession of a two- or three-run lead, Bard can be summoned, as he was Wednesday, with a mess in progress, asked to perform cleanup duty.
"His ability to hold runners is very good,'' said Francona. "His ability, from the first pitch he throws, to become engaged in the game is also unusual. It doesn't take him a hitter or two to get ready -- he's ready to go. I know he's a young kid, but he's been in those circumstances an awful lot already.''
Through the first 16 games, however, Bard hasn't always been as consistent this season as he has been in the past. On Opening Day, after the Sox had worked to come from behind and tied the game on David Ortiz's solo homer, Bard promptly handed the Texas Rangers four runs, absorbing the loss.
In Cleveland, he was on the mound when the Sox lost a heartbreaking 1-0 pitcher's duel as the Indians used a suicide squeeze in bottom of the eighth to extend the Red Sox' early-season losing streak.
But on Wednesday, Bard was nearly faultless. And he had to be, given that the margin for error was narrowing even as he took the mound.
"That's what I'm here for, I guess,'' said a satisfied Bard afterward. "That proves that games can be won -- or lost -- in an inning after the starter is out. I'm glad they called on me there.''
The key under such circumstances, said Bard "is to focus pitch-to-pitch.''
Even so, Bard had to take a deep breath when Crisp lined a pitch to left, only to have the ball fall inches foul from the left field line. For Bard and the Red Sox, it was eerily similar to an at-bat from another former Sox outfielder.
In the opener, David Murphy had sliced a two-run double to left after his liner landed on the line and kicked up chalk. The baseball gods were with Bard Wednesday, sending Crisp's shot just beyond the foul line.
"It was good to have some luck like that after what happened earlier in the season for me,'' said Bard.
The pressure of those leveraged situations -- middle or late innings, game on the line, but no save situation -- is something Bard revels in.
"I'm not getting any save opportunities,'' he said, "so I've got to savor those when I get them.''
And road wins, too, which had been non-existent for the Red Sox until Bard came in and did what he does as well any reliever in the game.