Bard is setting standard

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / July 22, 2011

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The Bruins were three weeks away from winning the Stanley Cup and Whitey Bulger was a free man living comfortably in California when Daniel Bard last gave up a run.

Three major league teams have changed managers in that time and the Sox have made 47 player transactions. A baby born on May 23, when Bard gave up a run against the Cleveland Indians, is about to turn two months old.

“Don’t say anything to him about it,’’ teammate Josh Beckett said. “He might start to think about it. We just want him to keep pitching the way he is.’’

There’s plenty to ponder. Bard has set a franchise record with 21 consecutive scoreless appearances. Opponents are 8 for 74 (.108) against him during that time with five walks and 22 strikeouts. Only two of the 13 base runners he has inherited have scored.

Bard’s 22 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings are the most for a Red Sox pitcher since Bob Stanley’s run of 27 in 1980.

“Right now, he’s the best in the business,’’ Jonathan Papelbon said.

Bard is well aware of his long run of success. But in his mind, that only serves to make him better.

“I always expect the same thing every day, to do well when I go out there,’’ he said. “It becomes easier to expect when things are going so well. Throwing up a zero every day is what I want to do. I realize that a lot of what happens is out of my control. But what I can control, I feel very confident in.’’

Bard has a 1.90 earned run average on the season. Take away the four runs he gave up over two-thirds of an inning against Texas on Opening Day and it drops to 1.16.

“Don’t remind me,’’ he said. “I feel like I’ve been making up for that game all season. I didn’t even look at my ERA for a few weeks.’’

In his third season in the majors, the 26-year-old righthander is one of the players manager Terry Francona relies on the most. If the Sox have a lead late, Bard is getting the ball.

“I know I’ve said this before, but it’s such a great weapon,’’ said Francona. “There’s so much flexibility.’’

Bard has worked more than one inning 10 times and less than one inning five times. Opponents are hitting .154 against him with runners in scoring position, including 0 for 6 with the bases loaded.

Most of his 45 appearances have come in the eighth inning. But Bard has pitched in the sixth inning once and 12 times in the seventh inning.

“If you’re a starter, knowing that guy has your back is a good feeling,’’ Beckett said.

Said Francona: “Bard’s been like a machine.’’

Bard has found the workload easier on his body and arm this season. The emergence of Matt Albers has eased some of the burden on him. That Papelbon has converted all but one save situation also helps.

“I think we’re pretty confident as a group. When that phone rings, it doesn’t matter what the score is, if we got a tie game or a one- or two-run lead, we have guys grabbing their gloves and ready to go,’’ Bard said. “I think that’s a good sign. We’re spreading out the stressful innings and keeping everyone fresh.

“It makes everything easier. I had to be ready in the sixth with two outs most of the time. Not this year.’’

Bard even has had time to experiment. Along with his 97-mile-per-hour fastball and a slider that bores in on lefthanded batters, Bard is throwing a slider with a little less velocity that acts like a changeup.

He made the adjustment after noticing a number of batters were fouling off his slider. By taking a little off the pitch, batters were way out ahead of it.

“It goes from 84 to 81. I knew if I executed it, they wouldn’t be able to hit it. That little dip gets more swing and misses,’’ he said.

But for all his dominance, Bard could probably grab a burger on Boylston Street without attracting much attention. The fate of setup men is to be less celebrated and compensated.

Bard was pleased that his counterpart with the Yankees, David Robertson, was named to the All-Star team. He considered it recognition for all setup men.

“He deserved it. He had better numbers than I did overall. He’s been dominant,’’ Bard said. “The way the game has evolved, you have to recognize the best middle relievers along with the starters and closers. It’s a big part of the game. It’s two or three innings in almost every game.’’

Like Robertson, who works to get the ball to Mariano Rivera, Bard plays in the shadow of his closer. He hopes to rise to that level.

“I think every great team needs a great closer to be successful. That’s why those guys have so much status. They’re on the field every time their team wins, pretty much. That’s where their popularity comes from,’’ Bard said. “Fans have a good connotation from seeing them on the mound. Middle relievers don’t necessarily have that association.’’

Papelbon will be a free agent after the season. If the Red Sox retain him, Bard will have to remain in his role. If Papelbon seeks his fortune elsewhere, Bard is ready to take over.

“It’s not for the recognition part. It’s just a natural progression. I hate to say it, but I’d like to get paid like a closer. I’d be an idiot to sit here and say I always want to do this job and not get to that point,’’ he said.

“Right now, it’s great. If you ask me right now, I’m in the best role I can be for this team in 2011. This gives us the best shot at winning the World Series. I love being a part of this team the way we’re playing right now. It’s awesome and a little surreal.’’

The Sox play the Mariners tonight and Bard will prepare like he always does. That it has been two months since he has given up a run will not be on his mind.

“Believe me, in my job you can’t look back whether it’s good or bad,’’ he said. “I’m only as good as the next batter. I know nothing like that will continue forward forever. I’m going to give up a run eventually.’’

Then he paused.

“Well, probably.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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