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Why Daniel Bard is just nasty good

07.24.11 at 12:50 am ET

How good has Daniel Bard been in his record-setting scoreless innings streak? His best pitch of his night wasn’t even thrown in the right location.

That’s how good. And now his streak is at 24 scoreless frames in his last 23 appearances after playing Houdini by escaping a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the eighth, leading the Red Sox over the Mariners, 3-1, Saturday night at Fenway.

The Red Sox had just staked their ace set-up man to a two-run lead with a three-run seventh. Naturally, Bard comes in. Instead of a routine 1-2-3 inning like Red Sox fans have become accustomed to of late, Bard surrendered a leadoff single to Dustin Ackley, a hard-earned walk by Justin Smoak and an Adam Kennedy bunt that was supposed to be a simple sacrifice.

Instead, Bard heard the barking Jason Varitek order a throw to third. It was the right call as Bard’s throw to Kevin Youkilis was in time and Youkilis backpedaled and touched the bag just before Ackley reached it. But third base umpire Eric Cooper ruled Ackley safe.

“I saw the replay,” Bard said. “[Youkilis] looked like he probably got his foot to the bag first but kind of a weird play where he was trying to get back to the bag at the same time. But I tried to do my part and it didn’t happen how I wanted it but we got out of it scoreless.

“Tek was yelling ‘3!’ and that’s my first instinct. I’m assuming get the out at third if there’s anything else, I can always turn around and get the out at first.”

Bases loaded, none out and not only was “The Streak” in jeopardy, so were Josh Beckett‘s ninth win of the season and Terry Francona‘s 1,000th as a major league manager.

“It definitely wasn’t an easy one but sometimes things don’t go quite right, you just have to keep grinding,” Bard said, crediting Smoak with a key at-bat early in the inning. “He laid off some really good pitches. They weren’t strikes but three of them were two or three inches off, or less, just pitcher’s pitches but I just couldn’t get that one down the middle when I needed it. I didn’t want to give into him. He’s got power, we respected that but I still thought he did a good job of laying off some pretty good pitches.”

But Bard, cool as ever under pressure, went to work. He got Mike Carp – the man who homered lead off the seventh – to pop out to shallow left on a changeup for the key first out.

“To throw a good changeup there and get a shallow pop-up, you have to get that first out because you’re one pitch away from there.”

“It’s a fine line between pitching away from contact and pitching to contact because you can’t afford to walk a guy but at the same time, you have to execute really, really good pitches. The changeup was a good one, made some good pitches to Cust and went from there.”

That would be Jack Cust who came to the plate. With the count 1-2, Varitek called for a slider down and in at the knees of the left-handed batting DH. Instead, Bard threw a slider that missed by about 17 inches – or the width of the plate. It was so filthy that everyone assumed it was a backdoor slider that left Cust and the 38,115 gawking in admiration.

“I was trying to bury it down and in and I missed my location,” Bard said. “That’s why Tek wasn’t able to catch it real well. It was a strike, I think. I wasn’t expecting it to be called a strike the way he caught it but I’m glad [home plate umpire Tim Timmons] got that call right.”

After Franklin Gutierrez grounded out to Youkilis, disaster averted and the Red Sox had their lead in tact and Bard had his streak protected for another night.

“It’€™s pretty special,” Francona beamed of Bard afterward. “He got himself into that bind and got himself right out of it. Not many guys can do that. That’€™s impressive.”

“I’ve been fortunate,” Bard said. “I haven’t had a lot of long innings, haven’t had a lot of jams, not a lot of guys past first base so to go out and do that and get through those tough ones, too, I’m happy about it.”

“It’s in the back of my mind. I’m more concerned with the tying run standing there on second. I know I have to keep the ball in the infield or close to it, got the strikeout when I needed it. I wouldn’t say it’s in the front of my mind. My main concern is maintaining our lead. I definitely proud of it. There’s a lot of luck involved. There’s been some great defensive plays behind me throughout it. I’m just out there trying to do the same thing every day.”

Read More: Boston Red Sox, Daniel Bard, Jack Cust, MLB
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