Wow. Talk about a close game. That was a pitcher’s duel if I’ve ever seen it. You don’t get any closer to a pitcher’s duel than a final score of 1-0. That tells you that the match was as even as it could possibly get. Unfortunately, we were on the losing end of the 1-0, but there were some substantial silver linings in this one.
Bard inevitably took the loss, but he pitched absolutely spectacularly. He only used three pitches – a four-seam that got up to ninety-six miles per hour and that made you just dream about him returning to the closer’s role we’d penciled him into when Jonathan Papelbon walked, a changeup at ninety-three miles per hour, and a slider – but that was really the only aspect of his start that gave him away as someone who’s new at this. Other than that, he looked absolutely spectacular. He mixed those pitches really well, which is important if you don’t have a lot to work with, and we can give him credit for that, for keeping his release point pretty tight, and for overpowering hitters until the seventh inning.
Bard’s line wasn’t exactly identical to James Shields’s, number for number. Bard lasted six and two-thirds innings to Shields’s eight and one third, Bard walked seven to Shields’s two, and obviously Bard gave up one run to Shields’s zero. But Bard struck out seven to Shields’s five. Bard was less efficient than Shields; he threw 111 pitches, sixty-three of which were strikes, while Shields threw 115 pitches, seventy-six of which were strikes, over more innings. But obviously Bard completely held his own, and given the circumstances, I’d say that that’s exactly what we needed to see in order to truly believe that starting is something that he could, not simply do, and not simply do well, but do as well as we need him to do it.
Bard began his start auspiciously; he needed only eight pitches to get through the first. He threw fifteen in the second and fourth, eighteen in the third, twenty-one in the fifth, ten in the sixth, and twenty-four in the seventh before he was pulled. His first inning was one-two-three. He hit a batter in the second. He issued his second walk in the third but secured all three outs via the K. His sixth was one-two-three as well. In every inning that was not one-two-three, Bard issued at least one walk.
As you can imagine, he allowed his run in the seventh before he was pulled. A groundout on two pitches and a strikeout on three provided two quick outs to open the inning, but then two walks and a single loaded the bases, and then Bard walked Evan Longoria on four pitches to score the winning run. That was a hugely painful moment. You could tell after the first walk that inning that he was struggling and tired, and to see him walk in what would prove to be the winning run was just heart-wrenching. That one run cost us a four-game sweep and cost Bard what would have been, had the offense been able to muster two runs, which is not even a third of the runs that we’d scored in our two breakout games, a well-deserved win for Bard, his first of the year and as a starter. It was absolutely, positively painful to watch.
Needless to say, he was replaced by Thomas after that, who finished the seventh and pitched through the eighth. Albers pitched the ninth. Both relievers obviously delivered shutout performances, and you could say that Bobby V. should have had the foresight to have gone to Albers before the bases were loaded. In fact, you should say that. Bobby V. said that after the game, and it’s the second such mistake he’s made this season. Even Longoria was surprised to have been facing Bard and not a reliever at that point. Apparently, Bobby V. wanted Bard to know that he trusts him to get out of a jam. Well, I have to say, not extricating yourself from the jam successfully doesn’t really give anyone much to trust in after all.
At any rate, the offense was completely stymied. We collected four hits to the Rays’ seven, and none of them were for extra bases. Ross’s two-for-four performance was our only multi-hit game. The other two hits belonged to Gonzalez and Pedroia, who also walked. Papi and Punto accounted for the other two walks we received. We only had three chances with runners in scoring position and clearly did not take advantage of any of them. We also grounded into two double plays. Sweeney made a glittering catch in the second to end the inning; he dove and slid to make it, and it was very Ellsbury-esque.
Well, you know what they say: walks will haunt, and this one certainly haunted. That one run felt like ten in those late innings when the bats were still silent. Bard dazzled, and it certainly wasn’t helpful that, with two out and two men on in the ninth (Pedroia’s walk and Papi’s walk, which was intentional), Ross struck out. I would go so far as to say that Ross’s called strikeout wasn’t his fault but the fault of home plate umpire Larry Vanover, whose three calls of strikes were incorrect, as they should have been rightly called balls. It was one of the more infuriating umpire performances I’ve seen in a good, long while. Ross has proven to be a great hitter; who knows? Maybe we would have been able to score those two runs after all. To say that I was positively livid is an understatement. The game truly ended on a sour note.
By the way, a note on Bobby V., since we’re already talking about bad decisions he’s made. You an add to that list of bad decisions a comment he made on television that claimed that Youk is not as committed physically and emotionally to the game as he has been in the past. Youk found out about it from his agent, and then the two spoke directly, and apparently Bobby V. apologized and said that the comment was taken out of context. There are several things wrong with this incident. First of all, a manager should not criticize his players in public. Secondly, if a player is criticized, he should not be the last to know. Thirdly, a manager should not say things that can prove to be detrimental if taken out of context. Red Sox Nation has seen how committed Youk is, how much of a dirt dog and a team player he is and how passionate he is about the game and this team. Red Sox Nation has also had occasion to see the positive effects of a manager’s leadership style that emphasizes privacy and discretion. Bobby V. would indeed do well to learn from this incident.
In other news, the B’s beat the Caps, 4-3.