Some time during the last week of the regular season, Daniel Bard thought back May 13 this year. He was sitting in the bullpen at Angels Stadium, the phone rang, he jogged in from leftfield, and he became a major league baseball player. He blew three fastballs past Angels catcher Mike Napoli. “Easy cheese,” Napoli said afterward.
In the months since, Bard has become a vital piece of the Red Sox bullpen. Tonight, he might make his playoff debut in the same place he made his big league debut. “It’s kind of a weird coincidence,” Bard said. “My regular debut went real well. So we’ll see about this one.”
Ramon Ramirez, Joey Gathright, Clay Buchholz, and Bard are the four Red Sox who have never played in the postseason, and only Bard is a rookie. He’ll be throwing his high-90s heat in the late innings, under extreme pressure.
Bard faces the same circumstances Justin Masterson did last season, making his playoff debut in the late innings as a rookie. Masterson allowed two earned runs in 9 2/3 innings, surrendering 10 hits and five walks.
Bard feels he has not become a different pitcher since that night in Anaheim, Calif., but he has improved. He knows how to mix his curveball and fastball, and he can use how hitters react to pitches away or inside to his advantage.
“I’ve learned to pitch a little more,” Bard said. “When I was in the minors, I was relying solely on overpowering guys.”
His most significant outing came in Toronto, his fifth appearance. Bard faced eight batters. He walked one and struck out five of them. Afterward, for the first time, he thought to himself, “I can not just pitch at this level. I can be pretty dominant.”
“It was a little bit of a turning point,” Bard said.
Tonight will be another turning point, perhaps bringing his first postseason appearance. Bard said he plans on approaching these games like any other. He didn’t even bother to ask his teammates about what it’s like to play in October.
“It hasn’t really come out a whole lot,” Bard said. “I’m excited.”