Bard's diary: On Lowell, Pap, closing

Reliever Daniel Bard started his Red Sox diary last fall when Boston was headed for the playoffs. With this season ending, he writes his final entry for 2010. He touches on his relationship with Jonathan Papelbon, answers the question of when is he going to be the closer, and offers an assessment of the year, thoughts on "Thanks, Mike Night," and tells how he was almost traded this season. (as told to Louise K. Cornetta)

We ended the season against the Yankees, but that last series in New York was awesome. It was as close to a playoff atmosphere as we're going to see this year, unfortunately. They were fun games to play in. If we could have walked away with that Sunday night win, it would have made our games against Chicago and this last weekend series interesting for us. It didn't happen, but those first two games were a lot of fun.

On Saturday, the Red Sox did a "Thanks, Mike Night" for Mike Lowell. It was awesome and well deserved. To make that decision to retire takes a lot of guts from him. I'm sure he still feels like he can hit if he was given an everyday shot, but I'm sure his body is telling him it's about that time. You've got to respect a guy who hangs them up on his own terms and doesn't wait to play himself out of the game. He's been an awesome teammate and guy to get to know. I've learned a lot from him like how to be a professional. The guy has a great sense of humor and someone you want around the clubhouse. We're going to miss him.

The season went by really quickly. Maybe it's because it was my first full season or maybe because I was pitching so much, but it went by really fast. I had fun. I'd like to say I contributed to a lot of wins, which makes the season a lot more fun when you're a part of the team's success. Unfortunately, we couldn't make this last run. We were missing some key pieces. We were missing three All-Star pieces. It makes it a little tougher.

This is a team that battled on the field. With all the injuries, we were able to stay in a playoff race until the last seven games of the year, which says a lot about the character of the guys on this team. You saw it in certain games where we kept going down and then would come back, then we'd get down only to come back again. This team had a relentless spirit. It's unfortunate that we didn’t get to show everyone the spirit that this team has in the playoffs. I think everyone who follows this team closely and understands baseball knows that we performed about as well as we could with what we had on the field.

For me personally, my highlight for the season is the one that probably most people would say, the game in August against the Yankees in New York when I came in with the bases loaded and one out and struck out Nick Swisher and Derek Jeter. As far as a high on the baseball field, that's about as good as it gets. I kind of dampened it by giving up a home run the next inning. But we won the game, so it didn't matter.

Some other highlights are I was named Fireman of the Year [by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America], which is an honor. It's cool enough to just be pitching for the Red Sox, but to be given an honor once you're on the team like that is pretty surreal. We have [Hideki] Okajima, who has been an All-Star, and Pap [Jonathan Papelbon] has been a four-time All-Star, just to be playing with those guys is awesome, but to get that award is really cool.

Someone told me I am the first Red Sox reliever since 1963 to work 70 or more innings and have an ERA below 2.00. [Note: Dick Radatz had a 1.97 ERA in 1963 in 131 1/3 innings. Three Boston starters have had ERAs below 2.00 since 1963: Luis Tiant, 1.91 in 1972; Roger Clemens, 1.93 in 1990, and Pedro Martinez, 1.74 in 2000.] I didn't know any of that when I was pitching but that is pretty cool. All of those names are either Hall of Famers or pretty close to it, so being on the same list as them is a real honor.

I guess Theo [Epstein] was on Boston sports radio last week and said they were looking to acquire Matt Capps this season in a trade, but the asking price was me. I didn't have any idea about that. From all I've heard from the Red Sox, I don't think they have any plans of getting rid of me. I could be totally wrong on that. But usually if a guy is young and cheap, you hold on to him if he's proven in the big leagues. It's one thing to trade a minor-league guy who hasn't yet proven himself in the big leagues. I feel I've solidified a spot here and I'm still relatively cheap by baseball standards. I hope to play here for a long time.

Pitching down this last stretch, I had one or two outings a couple of weeks ago where I commented that I wasn't executing my off-speed pitches when my fastball was up in the zone. I went on five days rest and that first outing after all that rest, you just don't have that same feel. You can simulate on the side, which I do. I get a catcher down to throw to every two to three days if I don't pitch. But you can't simulate that game intensity and adrenaline, which sometimes leads to pitches being a little higher than you want them to. It was nothing more than that.

I felt good physically, that was just my explanation why I wasn't able to strike guys out when I needed to. In that situation, like when I came in the game for Dice [Daisuke Matsuzaka] with one out and runners on second and third, all I wanted was strikeouts when the count is 0 and 2 or 1 and 2. But that's not all situations. If there is nobody on base, I don't care what the count on the hitter is, I'll take any out I can get. You're just looking for soft contact or a swing and miss. But the situation I was talking about with runners on second and third, I needed a strikeout.

Something I have worked on this year is holding runners on. It was nice to hear Tito [Terry Francona] say I do a good job with that. That's something that definitely doesn’t come automatically, it's really just a matter of keeping yourself gathered and composed out there. I think sometimes when guys get on base, it's easy to let the game speed up on you, as they say. You just take a deep breath. All you've got to do is hold the ball out there. Come set and hold the ball for five seconds, you've got the guy's timing all messed up. Just keep it simple. You don't have to have the best pickoff move in the world to hold runners well.

So people seem to want to know what my relationship with Pap is. We have a great relationship. I think last year he was kind of feeling me out. He didn’t know who I was or what I was about. This year, we've been kind of able to be on the same level and enjoy each other's company out there.

I like watching him pitch. I think he likes watching me pitch. We both want to see each other do well because ultimately if the other guy is doing well, the team is doing well, which is what we both want to see.

We also had a mean game of Connect Four on one of our road trips. One of the road clubhouses had it and we were playing quite a bit. Yes, he beat me, which is kind of embarrassing. He beat me two out of three games. I must have just woken up or something. We're living pretty close this offseason. So we may try to get together to do some duck hunting.

I came in for Pap in the ninth in Toronto in August. There isn’t a huge difference between coming in the eighth versus the ninth. You can lose the game in the eighth or the ninth. That game was weird because we had given up a lead. I think I was in bases loaded, tie game with one out. Not an impossible situation, but not a lot of room for error. If memory serves, from the seventh inning on we had given up like a five-run lead. So mentally, you're trying to stay in the game and be ready to pitch. Then it comes and that's the situation, I feel I could have done a better job. I didn’t attack the hitter the right way. I think some people just put the ninth inning on a pedestal mentally, that's why you see guys pitch better in the eighth then struggle in the ninth. I don't see that happening if I ever get the chance to pitch then. To me, they are both high-pressure relief situations and that's how you've got to look at it.

It started in spring training and this questions is probably not going to stop getting asked: When am I going to be the closer? My answer is this: It's out of my hands. I'm not worried about it. I know me and Pap make a pretty good tandem at the end of the game. I know Pap said he'd like us to be like [John] Wetteland and [Mariano] Rivera for the next five years. Like I said, I'm not worried about it. I have to pitch well for another year to even have a chance at that. If I had to pitch in this role for the next five years, I'd probably be pretty happy. I mean, there's a lot worse things that could happen. I'd definitely be happy. So I don’t know why you give up having me and Pap for the eighth and ninth when you have that locked up for one more year -- that's just what makes sense to me.

Regardless of what they do, I'll come into spring training ready to pitch whatever role it might be. We'll see what happens. I think everyone has to have goals and strive for bigger and better things. But you also have to be content with what is given to you and I definitely am to some extent. I'm always working to become the best pitcher I can be. Your role is one thing you really can't control.

All right, let's end this on a high note. I now have two fantasy football teams and they are both 3-0. I'm with Mike Cameron in the Red Sox league. I'm kind of his assistant GM there. We like to say I'm the brains behind the operation. My other league is with some college buddies from UNC, 3-0 there too.

My favorite NFL team is the Panthers. They're terrible. They're awful this year. It's bad, really bad. Being in Boston, I will watch the Patriots if they're on. They have some guys that are fun to watch. I wouldn't call myself a fan though. I'm more just a fan of NFL football, I guess.

This offseason my plans are to get settled into the new house. I'm in a couple of weddings of college friends. I'll also be trying to get out into the woods as much as possible to do some hunting. As we know, deer hunting is my favorite. Once I hunt a deer, I do eat it and if it's big enough you mount it. I don't go out there having to kill something every time. I really just enjoy being outside in the woods. If you're able to harvest something, as they say, that's just a bonus.

As far as baseball stuff, I will take a good three or four weeks off from pretty much everything. I won't let myself get completely out of shape, but let the body relax and recover. By early to mid November, I'll start running and working out again. Then the throwing doesn't actually start until the first week of January.

My pick for the World Series is ... I think the Twins have a good shot. They seem a pretty well-rounded team. Their pitchers throw strikes. Every other team playing in the postseason has one big hole. But I look at the Yankees, their offense is good enough to cover most holes. It's hard to say who will win. It will be interesting to watch. We'll see what happens.