Commentary

Decision to rest Bard bites Red Sox

Boston stuck to giving the reliever the night off against the Cubs and paid for it

Updated: May 22, 2011, 1:53 AM ET
By Steven Krasner | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox made a decision before Saturday night's game against the Chicago Cubs.

They stuck with that decision, which was to keep ace setup man Daniel Bard in the bullpen, giving him a second straight day off.

And that decision may very well have cost Boston a 9-3 loss Saturday night at foggy Fenway Park that snapped the Red Sox's winning streak at seven games and cost the team an opportunity to slide into first place in the American League East for the first time this season.

While Bard sat in the bullpen, Matt Albers and newly acquired Franklin Morales combined to cough up eight runs in the eighth inning, turning a 3-1 Boston lead into a 9-3 deficit. The long inning got extremely ugly, with shortstop Jed Lowrie dropping a routine popup and later a comedy of Little League-like errors by third baseman Kevin Youkilis and left fielder Carl Crawford on the same play with two Cubs runners trapped at third base.

[+] EnlargeMatt Albers
Elsa/Getty ImagesMatt Albers retired not one of the six batters he faced Saturday, allowing six runs to take the loss.

It was painful to watch the inning, and it couldn't have been easy from where manager Terry Francona was sitting, either. But Francona stuck to his guns, keeping Bard inactive for the night in the hopes that, while Saturday night's game got away from Boston, the extra day of rest will prove beneficial to Bard and the Red Sox down the road.

"We made the decision before the game to give him the day [off]," said Francona. "That's why you do it before the game -- because in the emotions of the game, you kind of want to use him. We've leaned on him a lot, though, in high-leverage situations. We just want to take care of him. It will do him a world of good. It [just] didn't do us much good."

It wasn't the predicted Rapture, but it was a disastrous inning.

"The world came to an end in the eighth," cracked Francona.

For his part, Bard, who was tagged for a pair of homers in a blown save in his latest appearance Thursday night against the Tigers, said he was healthy enough to pitch. And he said he wanted to pitch, but that the ball had been taken out of his hands, so to speak.

"[Francona] said I've had a heavy workload and that I was getting two days off," said Bard. "I told him I was good to go. He said, 'If I say maybe, you'll end up in the game. You're down no matter what,'" said Bard, who is 1-3 with a 3.52 earned-run average, having surrendered 16 hits, including three home runs, and fanned 22 in 23 innings covering 22 appearances in the Sox's first 44 games.

Bard did some serious fidgeting on the bullpen bench, watching what was unfolding in the pivotal eighth and knowing he wasn't going to get a chance to try to do anything about it.

"It's hard, but Rich [Hill] hadn't thrown in five days and Albers had a few days off, and Franklin hadn't pitched yet [since joining the Sox on Friday]. It was good to get those guys in," said Bard of the relievers who, along with Dan Wheeler, worked in Saturday night's game.

"I wanted to be in there bad. That's my competitive nature and I want to help the team. But they said it before the game and they stuck to it," said Bard of his spectator status.

So that left Albers as the setup man for the night to get the lead to closer Jonathan Papelbon. He trudged in from the bullpen with the Sox up 3-1, thanks to five solid innings from Alfredo Aceves, starting in place of an injured Daisuke Matsuzaka, and a scoreless inning apiece from Wheeler and Hill.

The inning did not go well for Albers. He faced six batters and did not retire any of them.

Darwin Bailey drilled a single to right. Starlin Castro rifled an 0-and-2 pitch to right-center, sending Bailey to third. Then Aramis Ramirez worked the count full, fouled off four consecutive 3-and-2 pitches and finally drew a walk on Albers' 10th pitch of the at-bat to load the bases.

Carlos Pena was next, and he worked a run-scoring seven-pitch walk, cutting the Cubs' deficit to 3-2. Then Reed Johnson, who had entered the game in the second when Aceves beaned Marlon Byrd, crushed a hanging slider for a two-run double off the wall in left-center and the Cubs suddenly were ahead, 4-3.

By then, Francona finally had gotten Morales up in the bullpen. But he didn't come in until Lowrie dropped Alfonso Soriano's popup in shallow left-center, gift-wrapping another Chicago run.

"I overran it, misjudged the wind," said Lowrie of his team-leading seventh error of the year.

At that point, Albers was headed for the showers. His chance to set up Papelbon was long gone.

"I knew with Bard down, I'd probably have that inning," said Albers. "It was great for the team to get it to that point. I just didn't do my job. I had a few guys with two strikes and I wasn't able to put them away. They had some good at-bats, got some walks. I didn't get the results I wanted."

Neither did Morales, the left-hander obtained from the Colorado Rockies on Thursday. His very first pitch for Boston was smacked off the wall for a run-scoring pinch-hit double by Jeff Baker. Two more runs scored when Youkilis couldn't handle a throw from catcher Jason Varitek with two Cubs in a rundown at third base, and Crawford's overthrow to the plate didn't help. An RBI double by Castro capped the scoring for the inning and the game.

"When you give up a lead it's always frustrating," said Lowrie. "We had a bad inning. We have to forget it, come back tomorrow and move on." Steven Krasner is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.

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