When Alfredo Aceves finished up the seventh inning at Fenway Park on Friday night, there were more than a few grumblings in the press box and likely in the stands that he should get to work the eighth as well.
Daniel Bard had been in a rut, and perhaps another night away from the pressure-cooker of a Red Sox-Rays game would do him some good.
Hogwash. Regardless of what had happened over the prior week or so, this 4-3 game with the wild card race in the balance was the perfect time for Bard to do his thing.
"I don't know if I agree with that," manager Terry Francona said when it was implied that he had other options for the eighth inning. "That's his job, and if he does it like he's done the majority of the year we have a chance to be the team that we want to be. If we start running from Daniel, it's not going to work."
And by sticking with Daniel, it worked, just like it almost always has. Sporting his usual high-90s fastball, dangerous slider and a more refined and prevalent changeup, Bard struck out three Rays hitters in a scoreless eighth.
Perhaps because of the situation, Bard showed uncharacteristic emotion during and after the inning, and his teammates responded in a raucous dugout. He also felt a little something with the way Francona remained true to his word.
"It's big," Bard said of Francona's trust. "I think that's the one thing I can definitely say about him, is he's definitely loyal to guys and I wouldn't expect any different. I went up and found him the day after [the last loss] and said, 'Hey, throw me whenever you want to throw me, but just know that I want to pitch. I want to be out there.'"
If it was anyone else, Bard's slump would barely draw attention. In reality, it wasn't all that much, just four games in which he gave up some runs. Because it happened during the team's September swoon and to a guy defined by dominance and critical to Boston's long-term success, everyone pointed and stared. And asked questions.
If Bard, who was 0-3 with a 15.42 ERA during that stretch, is not right, then what happens to the Red Sox bullpen? If the bullpen is not all it can be, then what happens to the team as a whole?
Bard, like his manager, never wavered. He said it was a mechanical issue that just required a simple correction. Plus, he'd been through this before, both mechanically and statistically, and come out of it just fine.
You might recall that he was 0-2 with a 16.88 ERA after his first three appearances this season. After that he went 14 innings without allowing an earned run. Then came a slide in May that saw him give up five runs in seven appearances, blowing two saves and losing a game. That preceded a franchise-record 25-game scoreless streak, which spanned 26 1/3 innings over the course of more than two months.
There was no reason to run from Bard when that streak ended in a mini-slump at the start of August, and there is no reason to run from him just because the September one was a bit more dramatic.
Just to make sure, Francona had that little chat with his electric setup man, and Bard gave him the answer that he wanted to hear.
"He said, 'The results have stunk lately but I know that you're still the guy that you've been all year long and the last couple years, so I'm going to stick with you,'" Bard said of the discussion with his manager. "And I told him I want to be in the game when it's on the line."
Was there really ever another option? Nope. As Francona said, that's Bard's job.