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THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Bard helps to pen a better ending

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / September 17, 2011

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If it’s not about baseball, the conversation between Daniel Bard and Terry Francona doesn’t stretch that far.

In general, the Red Sox manager will say something like, “You good to go today?’’

The reliever will say something like, “Yup.’’

The recent funk Bard has been in has made things awkward. He had given up nine runs, blown three saves, and taken three losses in five appearances dating to a Sept. 1 loss to the Yankees, looking nothing like the lights out setup man he had been all summer.

But the first time Francona talked to Bard about anything pitching related was Wednesday. And Francona came away convinced the 26-year-old righthander was his best option as a bridge to closer Jonathan Papelbon.

No, there was no sugarcoating the numbers.

Francona told Bard, “Yup, the results have stunk lately. But I know you’re still the guy you’ve been all year long, the last couple years. So I’m going to stick with you.’’

Last night, Bard came on in the eighth inning, with the Sox clinging to a one-run lead over a Rays team stalking them in the wild-card standings, and struck out the side. Papelbon came on in the ninth and tied a bow on the 4-3 win.

It was Bard’s 32d hold of the season. He snapped a season-long five game stretch without a hold, and the confidence to do it came from within the clubhouse.

He said he found Francona and told him: “Whenever you want to throw me but just know that I want to pitch, I want to be out there.’’

The task for the bullpen last night was to preserve the one-run lead Josh Beckett handed it. Alfredo Aceves pitched a scoreless seventh with two strikeouts, setting the stage for Bard and Papelbon.

Beckett had already told Bard what he thought of him.

“There isn’t anybody I’d rather have in my foxhole than him,’’ Beckett said. “He’s Daniel Bard. I want him to pitch in the eighth in games I’m pitching for the rest of my career if that’s possible. That’d be nice.’’

“Any time you’ve got veteran guys who have a lot of success telling you they believe in you, it’s good,’’ Bard said. “The whole team’s been awesome, telling me, ‘We need you to get where we need to go.’ ’’

Bard got the inning started with a strange strikeout, seemingly hitting Johnny Damon on the foot with a slider, but umpire Hunter Wendelstedt ruled Damon went around on his check swing.

“It guess it was a back-foot slider by definition,’’ Bard joked. “I hit him on the back foot. He’s a tough hitter. He’s had some success against me in the past. But I feel like I executed the pitch.’’

Relying more on his changeup than usual, Bard walked Ben Zobrist, but struck out Matt Joyce and John Jaso to finish off a scoreless inning.

“He made big pitches in a big spot,’’ Francona said. “He threw some breaking balls. He threw some really good change-ups and probably the biggest thing was just flat-out competing. You could see the emotion in the dugout not just for us but for him.’’

The Sox were able to push the Rays back a game with two left in the series. Having Bard back on track, Francona said, helps make them the team they want to be as they push toward the postseason.

“It’s amazing how much you appreciate the success when you get reminded how tough this game is,’’ Bard said. “This game will humble you pretty quick.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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