Bobby V: Leaving Bard in 'wrong decision'

BOSTON -- So, after scoring 31 runs in their first three home games of 2012, all against the Tampa Bay Rays, why were the Boston Red Sox shut out on Patriots Day?

Was it:

Red SoxRaysA. They were “not physically or emotionally into” the game.

B. They were worried that it was too hot for the marathoners.

C. They decided Bobby Valentine had made enough noise for one day.

D. Rays pitcher James Shields was that good.

As popular as the other responses might have been during this bizarre matinee, which began with Kevin Youkilis walking into Valentine’s office and asking him what on earth he meant by telling a TV reporter he wasn’t “physically or emotionally into” the game, the correct answer almost certainly was D.

But in the end, even Shields was upstaged by Valentine, whose decision to leave a tiring Red Sox starter Daniel Bard in the game in the seventh inning after loading the bases on a full-count walk, a base hit and a four-pitch walk worked out miserably for all parties involved, as Bard walked Evan Longoria on four pitches to force home the only run of the game.

"Well, it was the wrong decision, obviously,'' Valentine said. "He started the inning, he looked good, got two quick outs, got two strikes on the next two guys, I committed to him to finish the inning, or at least try to finish it. It didn't happen.''

Valentine was booed on his way back to the dugout after lifting Bard, who walked seven in all and hit a batter while throwing 111 pitches.

"They thought what I thought -- should have taken him out earlier,'' Valentine said. "They're good fans. They know what's going on.''

Bard had baserunners on in every inning except the first, but with the help of two double plays and seven strikeouts, did not allow a runner to reach third until the seventh, his troubles beginning with two outs when he walked the ninth man in the Rays' order, Sean Rodriguez on a 3-and-2 slider.

"All building blocks here for Daniel,'' Valentine said, when asked if he would have preferred to see Bard go after Rodriguez with something other than the slider. "Again, he has confidence in (the slider), I have confidence in him and Salty (catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia). I've got to feel that if he throws it for a strike, (Rodriguez) has got no chance.''

Jennings then singled on a 2-and-2 fastball, Rodriguez stopping at second. Valentine had lefty Justin Thomas and righty Matt Albers warming in the bullpen, but elected to let Bard pitch to Pena, who walked on four pitches, none of which were particularly close.

Pitching coach Bob McClure came to the mound before Longoria stepped to the plate.

"I felt good,'' said Bard, who by that point on an unseasonably warm day had thrown 107 pitches. "Obviously the command wasn't what I wanted it to be, but physically I felt good. Mac came out and said, 'Do you want this guy?' I wanted him. In hindsight, probably the signs pointed to I was getting tired, but in the moment I wanted to be out there.''

Would Bard ever say 'no' when given the option to pitch? "There's really no chance,'' he said. "I really felt good. I was one pitch away from getting my release point back. On top of that, those are my runs out there. I want to be responsible for them. They gave me a chance. I have nothing to complain about.''

Take away the seventh, and as Valentine noted, Bard was "great. His performance was great. Stellar.''

But all of that and one run left him with an 0-2 record after two starts.

Shields, who vanquished Detroit and Justin Verlander in his last start, was even better against the Red Sox and Bard, holding the Sox to four singles in eight innings. He left after Dustin Pedroia drew a full-count walk with one out in the ninth, keeping Pedroia perfect on the season in reaching base in the ninth inning or later (four hits, three walks).

Rays manager Joe Maddon brought in reliever Fernando Rodney, who had converted three previous save opportunities and had retired all 11 batters he’d faced. With a full house chanting, “Rodney, Rodney,’’ Adrian Gonzalez grounded out to first for the second out of the inning. Pedroia, who was off with the 3-and-2 pitch, pulled into second.

To the plate came David Ortiz, who had not gotten the ball out of the infield in three previous trips but had shredded the Rays this weekend with nine hits and eight RBIs. Ortiz was given an intentional walk, even though he represented the potential winning run, and Valentine sent in pinch-runner Jason Repko for Ortiz.

But Cody Ross, with a chance to win it, took a 97 m.p.h. fastball for a called third strike (strikes one and two were both called as well). Ross hurled his helmet to the ground and had words with plate umpire Larry Vanover, who last Wednesday had ejected Mets manager Terry Collins when he rushed to the defense of former Sox outfielder Jason Bay after he'd been called out on strikes on a pitch well out of the zone.

All three of the pitches that were called strikes to Ross appeared to be out of the strike zone, according to Pitch FX data obtained by ESPN Stats and Information. Since 2009, Vanover has called strikes on 36 percent of takes with two outs in the ninth inning, second highest of any umpire in baseball.

"Those pitches were not even close,'' Gonzalez said. "They were in the left-handed batter's box.''

Tampa Bay's win was the 500th of Maddon's career.

The most shocking aspect of Shields’ mastery of the Sox was the venue: If anyone had a right to complain about Fenway Park, it was not Luke (“It’s a Dump”) Scott but Shields, who came into Monday’s game with a 1-9 record and 6.75 ERA in 10 previous starts on Yawkey Way.