By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
BOSTON Despite being loaded with unfavorable possibilities, its an equation that has worked out well for the Red Sox this season. Starting pitcher cant go deep in the game? Need someone to enter in a difficult situation? Need a potentially rally quieted? Red Sox manager Terry Francona has not hesitated to plug Alfredo Aceves or Daniel Bard into high-leverage situations.
Entering Thursdays series finale against the Yankees, Aceves had earned the win in 18 consecutive relief decisions since June 7, 2009. His last loss in relief was on May 26, 2009, with the Yankees in Texas. He was 9-1 with two saves and a 2.83 ERA in 43 games (39 relief appearances) for the Sox this season.
Bard, with a 2.03 ERA, had retired 45 of the 59 first batters he had faced, a 76-percent success rate. He had allowed just 3 of the 29 runners he had inherited to score. His 31 holds led the American League.
So, to watch them both falter against the Yankees Thursday night was surprising. Aceves took the loss, as the Yankees beat the Sox, 4-2. Bard suffered his third blown save, allowing both of the runners he inherited from Aceves to score.
With Jon Lester, who threw 43 pitches in the first inning (a career first-inning high), able to get through just five innings, on 114 pitches, Aceves entered to start the sixth with the Sox leading, 2-1. He faced six batters, but kept the Yankees off the scoreboard. He left the bases loaded when he got Robinson Cano to ground out on a ball scorched to Jed Lowrie at third base.
With one out in the seventh, Andruw Jones battled Aceves for a 14-pitch walk, fouling off nine offerings. After he hit the next batter, Jesus Montero, making his major league debut, Aceves night was done.
Bard entered in the difficult position of having two runners on to face Russell Martin. After getting Martin down, 0-and-2, swinging at two sliders, Bard threw three consecutive balls before Martin doubled to right, scoring Chris Dickerson (pinch-running for Jones) and Montero.
The 1-2 pitch I thought wasa pretty good pitch, maybe an inch off, Bard said. I guess plate umpire Alfonso Marquez got it right. But a good pitchers pitch. And then 3-2, threw him a really good slider and he was able to stay back and fouled it off. And then, obviously, the next fastball caught too much of the plate. I thought I made two really good two-strike pitches on him and just didnt put him away.
A single to Eric Chavez, pinch-hitting for No. 9 batter Eduardo Nunez, scored Martin, giving the Yankees a 4-2 advantage. Bard struck out Derek Jeter, looking at a 97-mph fastball, and Curtis Granderson grounded out to Marco Scutaro at short.
But the Yankees had done all the damage they would need to do. With the loss, Aceves fell to 9-2, while Bard was charged with a blown save.
For catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Aceves and Bard approached their outings in their usual fashions.
They went after guys, said Saltalamacchia. We went after them with everything we had. Alfredo had a what, 15-, 16-, it felt like 100-pitch at-bat with Andruw Jones. So that was a good at-bat for him, kept fouling, fouling. We had to figure something to throw at him and we threw a couple of curveballs. He took some good pitches, got a walk and that kind of started their inning for them, I think.
Daniel came in, threw his fastball, like he normally does. Got ahead of some guys. Threw a good 1-2 pitch to Martin that we both felt was a pretty good pitch. But we dont give up. We still got to go after them and get the outs. They just got some key hits.
With several long at-bats with high pitch counts, it can be difficult for a catcher to know what pitch to call for next.
Its tough, Saltalamacchia said. Hitters get better as the at-bats go. You see more pitches. You start to get a little more comfortable. But they battled. Its as simple as that. They went up there tonight and fouled some pitches off. Kept their bats alive and made us kind of earn those outs. We pretty much earned every out we had to get.
The two runs charged to Aceves snapped a career-high string of 13 13 scoreless innings and eight scoreless appearances. It was just the third time he has allowed two earned runs or more in 40 relief appearances this season, the last on July 19 at Baltimore.
His stuffs good, Francona said. He nicked Montero. That ends up being really big. When youre pitching in a game like that, when the scores close, you cant just, again against the Yankees, you have to kind of pick your spots and try to maneuver it around. We have a lot of confidence in him thats why hes pitching there.
Martins two-run double in the seventh off Bard sealed the game.
Down 0-2 he worked his way back into the count like good hitters do and got a fastball up for a huge hit, Francona said. Theres a lot of things that happened -- to Montero the ball that just hit his uniform . . . Bard comes in in a lot of difficult spots. When he gives up a hit -- thats why we have him in there, youre going to give up a hit sooner or later.
Bard, though, has struggled against the Yankees. In 26 career outings against New York, spanning 23 innings, he has allowed 11 earned runs, for a 4.30 ERA, with seven home runs. In seven outings this season, spanning seven innings, he has a 3.86 ERA -- 1.71 runs higher than his season 2.15 ERA.
Its frustrating, Bard said. You want to come in and shut them down but its never easy coming in with two guys on. Im not making excuses but I think Ive done pretty well with inherited runners up to this point and at some point its going to fall and you're going to give up a couple. Im not going to worry about it. Ill move on and come back tomorrow.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen.