Rox hold on with Bard's first save in 9 years

August 12th, 2020

DENVER -- ’s nail-biting one-out save in the Rockies’ 8-7 victory over the D-backs on Tuesday night added a chapter to his return from the wilderness -- or at least his lengthy battle with wildness on the mound. And his demeanor in doing so gave the Rockies their own shot of confidence that their redemption was real.

“When I handed him the ball, he said, ‘Let’s close this out,’” said Black, who watched Bard freeze Stephen Vogt with a 2-2, backdoor slider with two runners on base to end the game at Coors Field. “There was a calmness to that for me, it was really cool.”

For Bard, 35, to reach this point took numerous Minor League contracts and many frustrations at back-field Spring Training games. It even took spending last year working for, yes, the D-backs as a mental skills coach.

“That's the core of everything -- being able to, you know, go into competition like that and truly believe in what you're doing,” Bard said. “Not only do I have the stuff to compete right there, but I fully believe that I'm going to succeed.

“It doesn’t always work out that way … but I realize that I'm way better when I take that mindset, when I take the thought of, ‘I’m the best pitcher in the world.’ There’s no better person for that situation.”

Yes, the big headline is Charlie Blackmon, who extended his hitting streak to 15 games with three hits -- including an RBI double -- and lifted his batting average to an unheard of .500. But there is another number that should garner attention -- 12-5, the Rockies’ record, which is second-best in the National League behind the 11-3 Cubs, who have played three fewer games.

For Bard, who dropped out of the Majors after 2013 because of control problems but finally made it back with the Rockies this year, it was his first save since June 5, 2011, for the Red Sox over the Athletics -- a save Bard says he does not remember.

The Rockies’ turnaround hasn’t taken quite as long. They went 71-91 last year and were considered non-contenders heading into 2020.

“That’s a sign of a good team, that when things get a little early -- things can get wild, especially in Denver -- finding ways to win those games can be a momentum-builder,” shortstop said. “You don't want to have those every night -- which we haven't.”

You know how it often happens at Coors Field.

A 2-2 pitchers’ duel through seven innings, with lefty Kyle Freeland (seven hits, but several key pitches to escape trouble) matching D-backs righty Zac Gallen (whose two runs allowed came on Nolan Arenado’s homer in the fourth), turned into a laugher with the Rockies scoring six in the eighth.

But Colorado’s hitting proved contagious to the D-backs, and suddenly Phillip Diehl (three runs on three hits) and Jairo Díaz (two runs, three hits) could manage but one out apiece. Last summer, a spate of games like this eliminated any dreams of contending for a third straight year.

Black lifted Díaz, who had provided solid results since replacing the injured Wade Davis as closer.

Bard, who had watched the D-backs dump hits into the spacious outfield or off the walls at Coors, then provided the lift.

Behind Vogt, 2-1, on all sliders, Bard induced foul balls on high fastballs, 97.7 and 98.1 mph. Then it was time for the game-ending backdoor slider.

“You’re trying to miss bats from the get-go and then try to take advantage of maybe some aggressiveness in that situation,” said Bard, who said he built personal relationships with almost all of the D-backs, plus coaches and support staff, during his mental skills work. “So we’re backdooring sliders and trying to get him to chase the fastball up. Fortunately, that last one, I think it got the outside corner. At least the umpire said it did.”

A game with so many twists is imperfect by definition, but it showed some of what has brought the Rockies to this point:

• Freeland made it 22 of the past 23 games, dating to last season, in which a Rockies starter has held the opponent to three or fewer earned runs.

• Blackmon produced from beginning to end, but the Rockies have at times struggled against starters (Gallen fanned seven) then cleaned up against relievers.

• Raimel Tapia, on the bench more often than not lately, had three hits. Garrett Hampson had scuffled after taking the leadoff spot from David Dahl (whose struggles continued with two strikeouts), tripled to lead off the eighth and later doubled to become the first player in club history to have hits of that variety in one inning.

At Coors, that doesn’t always lead to wins. However, Black believes winning baseball comes from momentum built by starting pitchers and executing, even if nails were bitten while Bard executed in the ninth.

“Games like this happen,” Black said. “You turn the page quickly. Do you feel better when you go home? Do you feel better when you come to the ballpark the next day? Yes. But when the game starts, all that is out the window. It truly is whoever plays the best that day.”