McAdam: Bard saves the day in the sixth

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McAdam: Bard saves the day in the sixth

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

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.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Quotes, notes and stars: Pedroia and Bogaerts Stay hot

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Quotes, notes and stars: Pedroia and Bogaerts Stay hot

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 5-3 win over the Blue Jays:

 

QUOTES

 

* “I benefited from good defensive plays and hard hit balls at people and guys just making plays. Whether you feel good or not you have to have good things happen out there on that field.” David Price said on his successful start against Toronto.

 

* “He woke up this morning more sore than when he left here last night . . . Didn’t want to push it. We’re hopeful he’ll back in the lineup tomorrow.” Farrell on David Ortiz being a late scratch prior to Sunday’s game.

 

* “It’s always great to avoid a sweep . . . We battled hard the whole game and had great at-bats the whole game.” Mookie Betts said on winning the final game of the series against Toronto in a postgame interview with NESN.

 

* “On a day when we were thin with the amount of usage we’ve had, Clay stepped in.” John Farrell said on Clay Buchholz’s relief appearance for Boston in the 10th inning.

 

* "It definitely felt a little different . . . Got to help the team any way I can . . . Glad I could contribute today . . . All in all it's sort of a learining experience for me and I'm sure I'll get better at it as we go." Clay Buchholz said on his first relief appearance of the season for the Red Sox out of the bullpen.

 

 

NOTES

 

* Xander Bogaerts extended his hitting streak to 22 games in his 1-6 performance.

 

* Dustin Pedroia extended his hitting streak to six games with an RBI single in the sixth. Pedroia has also hit safely in 23-straight games against Toronto

 

* Clay Buchholz made only his third career appearance as a reliever for the Red Sox, striking out one and allowing no runs in the tenth. His last relief appearance came on 8/17/08.

 

 

STARS

 

1) Dustin Pedroia

 

The second baseman continues to dominate the Blue Jays, finishing 2-6 with the game-winning double.

 

2) David Price

 

Boston’s ace answered the call in his most important start as a member of the Red Sox, even though he didn’t get the win he only gave up two earned runs off five hits and three walks

 

3) Mookie Betts

 

Entering the game with one hit in his last 20 at-bats, Betts went 2-4 with two walks, scoring two runs.

First impressions: Boston's lineup bails out the snake bitten bullpen

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First impressions: Boston's lineup bails out the snake bitten bullpen

First impressions from the Red Sox' 5-3 win over Toronto:

 

The Red Sox bullpen coughed it up in the eighth in the second consecutive game.

After coming into a difficult situation in the eighth, Heath Hembree grooved a 1-0 fastball to Encarnacion for his 10th homerun of the season.

Hembree missed with his fastball middle-in, when Christian Vazquez set up down and away. That’s a miss that can’t happen against a hitter who’ll make you pay every time. Hembree entered the game locked-in, but lost his focus in the eighth.

 

Clay Buchholz's successful inning in reliefer doesn mean anything, yet. can’t pitch from the bullpen either.

He has a long was to go before he proves any value in the bullpen. The only guarantee right now is Buchholz can pitch more then one inning. He has to churn out more appearances like Sunday to be usable for the Red Sox.

 

The real David Price has arrived.

Boston’s ace showed up when he was needed. And he did it against a strong, streaking lineup, without having to strike everyone out.

After coughing up a two-run homerun to Jose Bautista and walk Josh Donaldson, he regained his composure to get out the deadly Edwin Encarnacion and one of yesterday’s villains, Justin Smoak.

And after Boston got him a one-run lead in the following half-inning, Price came out with 89 pitches to his total and only threw seven in the sixth.

That extended his outing by an inning and gave Boston’s bullpen some extra rest.

 

Blake Swihart looks like a natural in left field.

Even though his trade value is highest as a catcher, Swihart looks very comfortable in left. The question that remains with the change is his bat. If Swihart hits the same playing in left as he does behind the plate then there’s limited value in keeping him in left field once Brock Holt is healthy.

 

Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts’ at-bats in the sixth completely threw off R.A. Dickey’s start.

In addition to Mookie Betts breaking up the no hitter before Pedroia came up, Boston’s men up the middle extended their hitting streaks after grueling at-bats.

The two saw 19 pitches between them both, taking six balls apiece. With the knuckleball being unpredictable to begin with, it became that much harder for Dickey to get the ball by Boston’s two and three hitters.

After that, he got into another full count with Shaw, walking him after seven pitches.

Once he hit Hanley Ramirez in a 1-0 count that marked the 11th ball of the inning after throwing 25 in the previous five innings.

Dickey clearly tried to change his approach with hitters figuring out the knuckler the third time through, which led to his earlier than expected exit after throwing five innings of no-hit baseball.