BOSTON — The third inning of Sunday's series finale against the Indians looked to be the start of another Daniel Bard meltdown. But after loading the bases and walking in a run, the 27-year-old showed the type of resiliency needed from the Red Sox rotation.
Bard forced the next batter, former All-Star Travis Hafner, into an inning-ending double play and avoided the same sort of disastrous inning that has seemed to plague him all season.
"The third inning wasn't pretty by any means," Bard said of the three batters he walked in the frame. "But I knew if I could get through that [third inning] and limit the damage there, then I'd get back on track. And that's just what I did."
A much more confident Bard took the mound for each of the next three innings, allowing five more baserunners but showing the fortitude to get himself out of danger each time.
"I think you have to have outings like today, where I was just out there grinding from the third inning on," Bard said. "My fastball command wasn't great all day. It forced me to use the changeup and the breaking ball, and that kept them off guard."
Manager Bobby Valentine was impressed with the performance in Boston's 12-1 win, expressing a growing belief in his No. 5 starter.
"Some people said that there was a pitch barrier, and once he got to it, he couldn't get through it," Valentine said of Bard's critics. "But he was challenged at that 85-pitch barrier, and he got out of the inning. So, check. Check."
Bard looked like he was finally able to finish a start as strong as he began on Sunday after allowing just six hits and one run over six innings of work. But as much as he battled to make it through the outing, Bard credited Jarrod Saltalamacchia's work behind the plate as the biggest difference.
"Salty's a good man," Bard said of his underrated batterymate. "He's worked hard at the pitch-calling, and I think he's gotten really good at it.
"The biggest thing is, he works with you throughout an outing. He's a great guy to talk to. He listens. He's a great encourager and really good at staying positive even when things aren't going so well."
The relationship between Bard and Saltalamacchia appears to be growing with each outing, and Bard is showing off the benefits of that chemistry with the progress he makes each time out.
After an outing like Sunday's, Bard is looking like he may very well be the best starter on the Red Sox staff. Maybe more importantly, though, his place in the rotation looks to be as concrete as ever.