After the type of season that Boston endured in 2010, it seems only fitting that we start our top ten moments list with one that gives fans a reason to look enthusiastically towards the future. The future, in this instance, is represented by Daniel Bard.
By now, it’s no secret that the Boston Red Sox plan to eventually replace the franchise’s all-time saves leader, Jonathan Papelbon, with Bard as the team’s closer. Whether that happens sooner rather than later remains to be seen. One thing, however, is certain: If 2011 is the year that Bard supplants Papelbon, he’ll be more than ready to assume the type of duties that accompany closing games for a perennial championship contender, in what is almost annually regarded as baseball’s toughest division, nonetheless.
At no time did Daniel demonstrate this more than the night of August 9, 2010 against the hated New York Yankees.
GAME RECAP (via ESPN.com): 08/09/2010 - Boston Red Sox 2 New York Yankees 1
Allow me to paint a picture depicting the scene to which Bard entered on this night.
The Red Sox arrived in New York three days prior with a record of 62-47, six games behind the division-leading Yankees (67-40), to open a crucial four-game set against their most bitter of rivals. After opening the series with a 6-3 victory, headed by Clay Buchholz’s 7 1/3 stellar innings and Ryan Kalish’s first career home run, Boston found themselves just five games out of first with three more in the Bronx to further cut into New York’s lead.
However, games two and three of this particular series weren’t quite as compelling – for Sox fans, anyway. John Lackey and Josh Beckett, originally intended as the leaders of Boston’s formidable starting rotation by way of both excellence and experience, were both mediocre – microcosms of their seasons as a whole – in back-to-back defeats by a combined score of 12-4.
So, there Boston was – now even further back in the standings (seven games) despite a series-opening win, desperately needing a victory in game four to simply salvage a split and avoid losing any more ground in the tumultuous American League East.
With Jon Lester slated to start for the Sox, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to assume that, if Boston wound up winning, it would be by way of quality pitching. And if the previous three games of this series were any indication, the Red Sox’s relief corps would have a hand in it as well. Both rang true by the end of the night.
Boston used five hits and a throwing error by Yankees’ catcher Jorge Posada to eek-out a pair of runs in the game’s first two innings. After that, however, the Red Sox would manage just one more hit and zero runs in the remainder of the affair. Thankfully, Jon Lester was, well, Jon Lester on this night.
Through the first four innings, New York’s typically potent lineup was held hitless, striking out three times and stranding the three base runners that did reach via walk. Cruising, and the beneficiary of a 2-0 lead heading into the home half of the seventh, Lester finally ran into some trouble.
Jorge Posada led off the frame with a single before advancing to third following a double to deep right field by Marcus Thames. Shaken, and with the tying runs standing in scoring position, Lester proceeded to plunk Austin Kearns to load the bases with nobody out. Lester would stay in to face Curtis Granderson (a lifetime .209 hitter vs. lefties) who followed with a timely strikeout -- his second in an 0-4 night at the plate -- ultimately setting the stage for the hero and subject of moment number ten, Daniel Bard.
In Boston’s game one victory, Bard earned his 24th hold of the season by retiring Lance Berkman and Curtis Granderson, stranding Robinson Cano on second base following his one-out double that knocked starter Clay Buchholz out of the game. In that game, Bard had a 6-3 lead to work and would never have to face a hitter representing the tying run.
In this one, however, he entered the game not only with the tying run already in scoring position, but the go-ahead run standing on first base as well. That’s without even mentioning that he was scheduled to face the top of the lineup in what was, at the time, considered a must-win game for his Red Sox.
Derek Jeter, 1-3 with a walk in his four at-bats leading up to the seventh, dug-in to face Daniel Bard with intentions of adding to his Yankee legacy. However, three pitches from Bard -- all fastballs no slower than 98 mph -- put an end to any hopes of that nature. After the first two fastballs located on the inside portion of the plate put Jeter in an 0-2 hole, Bard elevated a third and final one on the outer half, blowing it by the over-matched Yankees captain for the crucial second out.
After consecutive bases-loaded strikeouts, the Yankees were stripped of any momentum that they had garnered in the inning and were now in danger of stranding three runners late in a game in which they struggled to mount any offense in the first place.
In stepped Nick Swisher. In his first four plate appearances, Swisher went 0-4 with a pair of strikeouts while facing Lester. Against Bard, he would fare no better.
Bard, apparently an advocate of the old adage "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it," took the very same approach with Swisher as the one used to retire Jeter. Like the approach, the results were also eerily similar. Just as Jeter did, Swisher watched the first fastball go by for a called strike before fouling off the second to dig himself an unenviable 0-2 hole.
The third and final fastball may very well be Bard’s best pitch of his still-young career.
Clocked at 99 miles per hour with an intense tailing action, Swisher flailed and missed badly at strike three – with extra emphasis on badly. Given how unhittable the third strike was, it’s hard to blame Swisher. He couldn’t hit it even if Thames had been successfully stealing and relaying signs from second base.
See the sequence of pitches for yourself: Video via MLB.com
"That last pitch he threw me, man, 99 miles per hour. It’s not supposed to move like that," Swisher said after the game, reflecting on just how devastating Bard’s final fastball was.
Despite allowing a 416 foot home run to Mark Teixeira at the onset of the eighth, Daniel Bard earned his then league-leading 25th hold after Jonathan Papelbon closed out the Sox’s much needed 2-1 win.
After the game, Bard said, "I was just trying to keep them in the infield, not necessarily strike them out."
Thanks to moment number ten, the future looks bright for the back end of the Red Sox bullpen. Especially in the event that Daniel Bard enters a game with the intention of striking hitters out, and even more so if those hitters are of the Yankee variety.
* Be sure to return tomorrow for the Red Sox's top moment #9 of 2010