Out 7 years with yips, pitcher wins MLB return

July 26th, 2020

It was perfectly OK for Daniel Bard to release an ear-to-ear grin seven years in the making.

Bard had to pitch out of two jams before he could grin like he hadn’t in years, thanks to the Rockies’ 3-2 victory over the Rangers at Globe Life Field on Saturday afternoon.

“I got him at the end of the dugout, and he said three words: ‘That was fun,’” Colorado manager Bud Black said.

Bard had just pitched in a Major League game for the first time since April 27, 2013, when his mysterious lack of control and the yips made it impossible to stick with the Red Sox and wouldn’t let him make it back with numerous other teams. With 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief, Bard notched his first win since May 29, 2012, when he started for Boston and went 5 1/3 innings to beat Justin Verlander's Tigers.

Bard, 35, worked for the D-backs last season as a mental skills coach and mentor, but he found in playing catch with players that all the stuff that once made him special was back. The butterflies and racing heart that caused so much anxiety before were now his allies, the way they are supposed to be.

And now, Bard has more than three words for aspiring athletes, or anyone who is struggling with, well, anything.

“You have to adjust your perspective on what’s going on, it makes that feeling a really positive thing where it helps you, or a really negative thing where it crushes you,” said Bard, who credits his wife, Adair, for sticking with him and says much of his perspective comes from raising three children -- sons David (4) and Sykes (2) and daughter Campbell (8 months).

“It wasn’t something I learned overnight,” Bard said. “It’s taken practice. It’s taken a lot of intentional work on my part, but hopefully this proves to anybody out there that’s struggling with anything that it can be done.”

It helped that Bard returned to a familiar visual: Elvis Andrus in the batter's box. Bard replaced fatiguing Rockies starter Jon Gray with two outs and two runners on, looking to preserve a 2-1 lead in the fifth. He then got Andrus to fly out to left field, which made the Rangers' shortstop 2-for-6 in his career against Bard.

“The funny thing is, he’s one of the guys who I have history against -- one of the few guys in this league I’ve faced, probably,” Bard said.

Bard's long road back has been a warm story in a year that needs them. But he's more than just a story. Bard showed why he's a viable part of Colorado's bullpen as he threw 20 of his 25 pitches for strikes and hit 98 mph on four of his fastballs.

Bard was also part of a wild bullpen ride. Carlos Estévez (two walks), Jairo Díaz (bunt single, hit-by-pitch and wild pitch) and Wade Davis (one run allowed on one hit and one walk) each worked in and out of trouble after Bard to preserve the Rockies' victory.

But Saturday will be remembered for all the pitches Bard made after a long hiatus.

“I can’t imagine. … I mean, [seven] years ago, that’s a long time,” said Gray, who gave up one run in 4 2/3 innings.

After Bard relieved Gray and stranded two Texas runners, he came back out for the sixth. He gave up a one-out single to Joey Gallo and a two-out single to Todd Frazier, but that didn't faze him. Bard fanned Rougned Odor on a 98.7-mph fastball between those hits, and he induced a flyout to left to end an 11-pitch confrontation with Willie Calhoun.

Catching his breath after his fun outing, Bard went to the clubhouse and committed his only faux pas of an otherwise golden day.

“Funny thing is, I came in after the sixth inning and I grabbed my phone,” Bard said. “Now, MLB is pretty tight on everybody looking at their phone. I had like 60 text messages. The [clubhouse] guy was looking at me, and I felt like a second grader. I just sat the phone right down and sat back in my seat.”

It was fun being a kid again.