Bard's birthday boost pushes Rox past Angels

Colorado becomes 1st team since 1897 to win a series with a run differential of -20 or worse

June 26th, 2023

DENVER -- Rockies reliever thrust his hands into the air like a kid gleeful over a special gift given to him -- and as it was Bard's 38th birthday, the vibe felt right.

Bard had walked the Angels' David Fletcher to lead off the eighth inning, and after a strikeout of Taylor Ward, had to face two superstars. Bard promptly retired Shohei Ohtani on a sky-high popup to right, setting the stage for third baseman Ryan McMahon to make Bard’s birthday a happy one by retreating to field Mike Trout’s top-spun grounder and nabbing him at first base with a strong throw from the outfield grass.

“That was the coolest play I’ve seen,” said Bard, who wasn’t the only one in party mode after the Rockies' 4-3 victory Sunday at Coors Field.

That McMahon play was a key moment in a hard-fought win that clinched the Rockies' series victory over the Angels, a feat that took on special significance as Sunday's events came less than 24 hours after the Angels made history at the Rockies' expense in a lopsided 25-1 win.

On the weekend, the Rockies were outscored 32-12. You have to go back 126 years, to the Louisville Colonels taking 2-of-3 from the Chicago Colts in 1897, to find the last time a team won a series with a run differential of -20 or worse.

Elsewhere on Sunday, left-hander Austin Gomber (five innings, two runs) earned a win -- and snapped a 30-game winless streak from Rockies starters in the process.

Supporting Gomber was a Rockies offense that was highlighted by Ezequiel Tovar, who swatted a solo homer in the fifth and a seventh-inning RBI single.

So, call Sunday a comeback of the baseball spirit, or even a lesson in accepting gifts ... especially if they aren’t what’s planned.

In other words, the Rockies’ story was Bard’s 2023 in one afternoon.

He’s progressed beyond his concerning early part of the season. Bard, pitching for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, broke the right thumb of Venezuela’s Jose Altuve with a pitch and couldn’t pull it together in time for the season, spending three weeks on the injured list with anxiety.

Bard, in the first year of a two-year, $19 million contract, has a 1.40 ERA in 25 appearances. His velocity has recently climbed above 97 mph, but he hasn’t reached the 98-plus he consistently hit last season. The Rockies replaced Bard as closer at the start of the year with Pierce Johnson, who also fired two significant strikeouts in the seventh on Sunday.

The club's current closer is Justin Lawrence, who gave up a run and three hits in the ninth, but secured his fourth save.

But Bard still pitches in key situations.

“The walks are high, but strikeouts are still there,” manager Bud Black said. “The ERA is down. He’s wiggling out of some things, and he’s getting increasingly closer to being the Daniel Bard that we’ve seen in the last couple of years.”

Bard spent the first two months or so searching for his old self, but has since learned to appreciate his current self -- still believing that he'll be able to tap back into that higher velocity of his "older" demeanor.

“I'm a lot better at, you know, taking a look at the results and saying, ‘OK, that pitch maybe didn't go exactly where I wanted, or it wasn't as hard as I wanted, but it got an out and it got a good hitter out,’” Bard said.

Bard is the best-known arm in a bullpen that had a strong record of holding leads until the starting pitching faltered. But the two wins in the series against the Angels showed that if a rotation beset by injuries and slumps can find a streak of solidity, the Rockies (31-49) can give a team light on depth a chance.

“The goal is just trying to get them the lead -- that’s been the hardest thing for us,” said Gomber, who gave up two runs in the sixth, but watched middle reliever Jake Bird force one of the Angels’ four double-play grounders to hold the lead at 3-2.

Bard didn’t reach his highest velocities of even this season, but spotted his fastball and used breaking balls for key outs against Ohtani and Trout. He needed help from McMahon, who made multiple strong plays, including a pinpoint, game-ending throw to beat Luis Rengifo to first base.

McMahon knew he made Bard’s day, even if he didn’t know why.

“That was his birthday?” he said. “I don’t know anything.”

Bard, who planned to celebrate with his family by taking in a concert and going fishing on Monday’s day off, noted that he has something special in mind for McMahon in response.

"I need to give him a big hug,” Bard said.