The fireworks are out again at Progressive Field as the Indians move one game closer on the Mariners in the race for the No. 1 overall draft pick and/or top-five slotting. In other words, the Mariners won the actual game, rather easily, 9-3, behind the bat and defense of Josh Bard to support the usual strong pitching of Jason Vargas.
Bard bailed Vargas out of trouble with two on in a 2-2 game in the fourth when he picked off Andy Marte at first base to end the frame. He then smoked his first career grand slam in the fifth inning, blowing the game open and making good on a birthday wish mentioned by his daughter, Hannah, 4, prior to the contest.
“It’s super exciting,” he said. “It’s my daughter’s fourth birthday today, and she told me to hit a home run for her so I’m really excited about that.”
Bard even got the ball back out of the right field stands. “It’s amazing. All I have to do is give them my lousy autograph.”
As one of the team’s backup players — who’ve dubbed themselves “jabronis” (which meand “idiots” in Italian– Bard understands his role. He knows he’s here to be a mentor to young guys like Adam Moore and help pitchers like Vargas when called upon.
It’s a bit of a switch from the 90 games he played for Washington last season. He’s at 29 games now and every one counts in the off-season when you’re trying to negotiate your next deal to stay alive in the majors at age 32.
Bard said he’s used to it.
“I’ve been around long enough,” he said. “I’ve started, I’ve backed up, I’ve platooned, and ultimately, my job is…when it gets hard and the season’s like this, you’ve got to love the game. You’ve got to come in ready to play every day. Because you never know what’s going to happen. As a catcher, you’re one foul-tip away from being in there all the time.”
Bard was just a triple away from the cycle and admitted he’d thought about going for it his final at-bat. He hit the ball pretty well, on a line to left field, where it was caught by Shelley Duncan. Bard was asked how badly he wanted the ball to fall in.
“Did I want that?” he asked, wide-eyed and rhetorically. “Does a bear crap in the woods? I mean, let’s go. I want ewvery hit.”
But Bard was honest about his chances at a triple even had the ball fallen in.
“I was telling the guys — they were busting my chops about not getting the triple — and I said ‘If I would have had to get a triple that last at-bat, I’d probably have been visiting the DL right after.’ ”
Vargas was appreciative of Bard’s pickoff throw, saying it got him out of his only real trouble all night.
After that, Vargas made some adjustments, settled down and went seven innings with just three runs allowed. He credited a tip from Jarrod Washburn last year with helping him make adjustments much more quickly this season.
“Washburn told me something last year that kind of burned in the back of my brain,” he said. “He said ‘I can feel my body now better than I could five years ago.’ He said it’s so much easier to make adjustments the more you do things. And the more chances you have to do that.”
Now, Vargas looks for certain keys to go back to when things go wrong. He makes sure he’s over the rubber when he’s breaking with his hands, and making sure he’s balanced enough when he starts to go forward.
“Tey’ve always been there,” he said of the keys. “But to be able to recognize it and be able to do it when you’re out on the field are two different things.”
Vargas is 9-5. The Mariners are 8-4 over their last 12 and 4-1 under Daren Brown. Life is finally good…for now. The M’s will take the respite from their normal awful and move on from there.