Red Sox

McAdam: Bard saves the day in the sixth

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McAdam: Bard saves the day in the sixth

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Clay Buchholz had hit the proverbial wall, having thrown 103 pitches, loading the bases with two consecutive walks, and placing the Red Sox' bid for their first road win of the season in jeopardy.

And here was the biggest problem: it was only the sixth inning, far too soon to go to closer Jonathan Papelbon, and yet too risky to trust to the team's group of middle relievers.

Daniel Bard, then, to the rescue.

Bard inheirted a bases-loaded, one-out jam, with the Oakland A's threatening to dismantle the three-run lead the Red Sox had at the time. He struck out Cliff Pennington, then retired Coco Crisp on a flyout, leaving the baserunners exactly where they were when he entered the game.

Just for good measure, Bard added a scoreless seventh inning, leaving only six outs for Bobby Jenks and Papelbon to record. As it turned out, both late-inning relievers allowed a run each, but Bard had steered the Sox through the biggest threat of the afternoon.

"That was the game right there,'' marveled Terry Francona after the 5-3 win was in the books. "You've heard me talk about it, time and time again - the game can be won in the sixth or seventh. For me, that was it. He came in and stopped it. That's what he's there for.

"It's a big weapon. That's what it is. We have the ability to pitch him with the game on the line and he's one of the best in the league. He can get left-handers, he can obviously get right-handers. He holds runners . . . With runners on base, that's who we want to bring in.''

Whenever Papelbon falters, fans clamor for a job switch in the Red Sox bullpen, clamoring for Bard to become closer with Papelbon shifted to a set-up role.

But that ignores the fact that each is probably better suited for their present role. And it also glosses over how demanding Bard's job is.

While Papelbon often has the luxury of starting an inning clean -- i.e., with no baserunners -- and in possession of a two- or three-run lead, Bard can be summoned, as he was Wednesday, with a mess in progress, asked to perform cleanup duty.

"His ability to hold runners is very good,'' said Francona. "His ability, from the first pitch he throws, to become engaged in the game is also unusual. It doesn't take him a hitter or two to get ready -- he's ready to go. I know he's a young kid, but he's been in those circumstances an awful lot already.''

Through the first 16 games, however, Bard hasn't always been as consistent this season as he has been in the past. On Opening Day, after the Sox had worked to come from behind and tied the game on David Ortiz's solo homer, Bard promptly handed the Texas Rangers four runs, absorbing the loss.

In Cleveland, he was on the mound when the Sox lost a heartbreaking 1-0 pitcher's duel as the Indians used a suicide squeeze in bottom of the eighth to extend the Red Sox' early-season losing streak.

But on Wednesday, Bard was nearly faultless. And he had to be, given that the margin for error was narrowing even as he took the mound.

"That's what I'm here for, I guess,'' said a satisfied Bard afterward. "That proves that games can be won -- or lost -- in an inning after the starter is out. I'm glad they called on me there.''

The key under such circumstances, said Bard "is to focus pitch-to-pitch.''

Even so, Bard had to take a deep breath when Crisp lined a pitch to left, only to have the ball fall inches foul from the left field line. For Bard and the Red Sox, it was eerily similar to an at-bat from another former Sox outfielder.

In the opener, David Murphy had sliced a two-run double to left after his liner landed on the line and kicked up chalk. The baseball gods were with Bard Wednesday, sending Crisp's shot just beyond the foul line.

"It was good to have some luck like that after what happened earlier in the season for me,'' said Bard.

The pressure of those leveraged situations -- middle or late innings, game on the line, but no save situation -- is something Bard revels in.

"I'm not getting any save opportunities,'' he said, "so I've got to savor those when I get them.''

And road wins, too, which had been non-existent for the Red Sox until Bard came in and did what he does as well any reliever in the game.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

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MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

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Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

Max Scherzer heard his name and thrust his arms in the air, shouting and smiling big before turning to kiss his wife.

Corey Kluber, on the other hand, gulped once and blinked.

Two aces, two different styles - and now another Cy Young Award for each.

The animated Scherzer of the Washington Nationals coasted to his third Cy Young, winning Wednesday for the second straight year in the National League. He breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Kluber's win was even more of a runaway. The Cleveland Indians ace took 28 first-place votes, easily outpacing Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox for his second AL Cy Young.

Scherzer yelled "yes!" when his award was announced on MLB Network, a reaction in keeping with his expressive reputation. He showed that intensity often this year, whether he was cursing under his breath like a madman during his delivery or demanding - also with expletives - that manager Dusty Baker leave him in the game.

Just a little different than the pitcher they call "Klubot." Kluber was stoic as ever when announced as the AL winner. He swallowed hard but otherwise didn't react, only showing the hint of a smile moments later when answering questions.

Not that he wasn't thrilled.

"Winning a second one maybe, for me personally, kind of validates the first one," Kluber said.

Scherzer's win moves him into rare company. He's the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs, and among the other nine, only Kershaw and Roger Clemens aren't in the Hall of Fame.

"That's why I'm drinking a lot of champagne tonight," Scherzer said.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit.

"This one is special," he said. "When you start talking about winning three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point."

Scherzer was 16-6 with a career-best 2.51 ERA this year. The 33-year-old righty struck out a league-leading 268 for the NL East champion Nationals, and in an era noted for declining pitcher durability, he eclipsed 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He had to overcome a variety of ailments to get there, and Washington's training staff was high on his thank-you list.

"Everybody had a role in keeping me out on the field," he said. "I'm very thankful for all their hard work."

Kershaw has won three NL Cy Youngs and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts. This is his second runner-up finish. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals finished third.

Kluber missed a month of the season with back pain and still easily won the AL award over Sale and third-place finisher Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball. He added to the Cy Young he won with the Indians in 2014 and is the 19th pitcher to win multiple times.

The 31-year-old Kluber was especially dominant down the stretch, closing out the season by going 11-1 to help Cleveland win the AL Central. He and Minnesota's Ervin Santana tied for the major league lead with five complete games - nobody else had more than two. Kluber also led the majors with 8.0 wins above replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Kluber and Scherzer both had rough outings in the playoffs. Kluber gave up nine runs over two starts in an AL Division Series against the Yankees, and Scherzer blew a save in the decisive Game 5 of an NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Scherzer said he couldn't even watch the League Championship Series, although he did tune in for the World Series.

"That will eat at me this whole offseason," he said.

Voting for the awards was completed before the postseason began.

The final BBWAA honors will come Thursday when the MVP awards are announced in the AL and NL.

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