On a day when scores of Boston Marathoners staggered across the finish line on Boylston Street, Daniel Bard scaled his own Heartbreak Hill at Fenway Park. Bard waged a marathon of his own on the mound throwing a career-high 111 pitches (63 strikes) in Monday’s 1-0 setback against the Tampa Rays.
It was the Red Sox (4-6) first home loss of the season, a shutout that came after the club set a franchise-record with 31 runs in its first three home wins of the season.
Bard (0-2, 4.63 ERA) absorbed the loss after testing the limits of his pitch count in just his second career start. After throwing 107 pitches and walking Carlos Pena on four pitches to load the bases, Bard faced Evan Longoria and walked him — on four pitches — to push across Sean Rodriguez, who also walked with two out in the seventh, with the winning run.
“Staying out there – I don’t know what it ended up being, 105, 110 pitches – I think I learned a lot,” said Bard, who gave up one run on four hits while allowing a career-high seven walks to go with a career-high seven strikeouts. “I know what it feels like. I know what my body is going to feel like.
“I think when you get up that high, it’s a big jump from 90 to 105 pitches, just physically and mentally, too,” Bard said. “It’s hard to maintain focus for that long, for that many pitches and that’s probably something I can improve on.”
Asked how difficult it was for him to maintain focus after throwing 107 pitches and having to face Longoria with the bases loaded, Bard replied, “I wasn’t thinking about that at all. I was just trying to power the ball through the zone and the funny thing was, my mindset was good, I was able to slow the game down, slow the situation down and focus on the mitt.
“Usually when I do two or three of those things I can throw a good clean strike on the outer half [of the plate],’’ he said. “The ball just wasn’t going where I wanted it to, simple as that. Everything was good, felt good, the mindset was there, the ball just didn’t go where it was supposed to.
“I guess, looking back, my legs weren’t quite under me or something like that because the velocity was still good; just lose the release point.’’
Bobby Valentine’s decision to leave Bard in the game drew an angry response from the Fenway Park crowd of 38,108, who lustily booed the Sox manager when he emerged from the dugout to lift Bard.
“They thought what I thought: I should’ve taken him out earlier,” Valentine said, when asked about the crowd’s reaction. “They’re good fans, they know what’s going on.”
As for his decision? “It was the wrong decision, obviously,” Valentine said. “I wanted to let [Bard] know that I believed he could work himself out of a jam. He had a couple during the game and he did a heck of a job”
Bard, who was converted from a potential closer to the No. 5 starter in the rotation during spring training, had expressed the desire to be able to pitch out of potential jams. When Bob McClure visited the mound after Bard walked Pena to load the bases, the Sox pitching coach wanted to confirm Bard was up to the task of facing Longoria
“In hindsight, the signs pointed to I was probably getting tired,” Bard said. “But in the moment I wanted to be out there.”
Would he have ever refused the opportunity? “No, there’s no chance,” Bard said. “I mean, obviously, I really felt good. I felt like I was one pitch away from getting that release point back. On top of that, those are my runs out there and I wanted to be responsible for them. I wanted it and they gave me the chance and so I can’t complain about it.”
If there was a turning point for Bard, he said it was when he issued a walk to Rodriguez after retiring the first two batters he faced in the seventh.
“You’ve got the nine-hole guy coming up and I got to force him to swing the bat,” Bard said. “It’s as simple as that, and I didn’t do that. I ended up walking him.
“On a 3-2 count, I threw him a breaking ball and I was OK with the pitch selection because I was throwing it for a strike most of the day,” Bard said. “All I got to do is throw it for a strike and nine times out of ten that’s an out. I threw more of a chase pitch and he didn’t bite. That’s the guy I need to get.”
The walk wound up haunting Bard when Rodriguez scored the winning run on his 111th and final pitch of his Marathon Monday effort.