Jason McLeod said it Sunday night, although he's neither the first or last person to make such a remark.
"I've never seen someone throw a ball as easy as Daniel Bard," the Red Sox scouting director commented. "It's fun to watch him just play catch. There are certain guys who, the way they throw a ball or swing a bat, you say, 'Wow, that's not normal. That looks exceptionally easy for this guy.' That's how Daniel is."
Prior to Sunday night's Red Sox 4-3 win over Tampa Bay at Fenway Park, this was all that anybody was talking about, the fact that the 100 mph fastball-throwing Bard was now dressing in the big league team's clubhouse after being recalled from Triple A Pawtucket. (More on him later.)
But Bard never got a chance to showcase the source for McLeod's amazement in his first night in the majors. He had to leave that to Jonathan Papelbon.
Sure, what some thought they might be remembering this time around regarding the Sox' closer was what was trending toward his first blown save of the season. Putting the first two batters on base in the ninth will do that.
But then came the same sort of imagery that had led to Bard-esque amazement for much of Papelbon's career, that mid-to-high 90's fastball that just seemed to have a little jump at the end. This time it showed up at just the right time, on strike three to Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, and, finally, Sox-killer Carl Crawford.
"Pap," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, "really turned into Pap."
Someday Bard will garner such moments. But this time, fans had to settle for Old Man Papelbon.
Here are five things we learned as the Red Sox head out to the West Coast for the final time this regular season ...
BARD IS AN INTERESTING FELLOW
So, Bard is now a major leaguer, becoming the 15th member of the 2006 draft's first round to crack the bigs. Bard, however, has to own one of the group's most interesting paths to game's ultimate destination.
Here is a primer to all things Bard. Consider it a sub-set of five things:
A. The Red Sox might not have known it at the time they made Bard the 28th pick in the '06 draft, but they had been scouting him since he was a 9-year-old.
"I first met Daniel in Charlotte back in 1994," said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. "And then I first saw him play at a camp that same year. It's a small world, I guess."
While the story would be a whole lot cooler if Farrell -- who was winding his playing career down at Triple-A Charlotte at the time -- knew he was going to become the Red Sox pitching coach, and that his employer would be locking in on this tall, skinny kid 12 years down the road. But that wasn't the case.
The truth of the matter was that Farrell's roommate in the Cape Cod League, Kevin O'Brien, was the uncle of Bard. That led to the initial introduction in '94, subsequent get-togethers at Bard/O'Brien family cookouts, along with the occasional chance to see the youngster throw.
But Farrell admits it was hard to project a kid who was going to be hitting the century mark on the radar gun. In fact, nobody had those kind of thoughts ... well, almost nobody.
B. As a youngster Bard never really distinguished himself as a hard thrower, instead making his bones in baseball as a standout shortstop. Perhaps the best example of exactly how pedestrian his fastball was initially can be found in this story he tells of being on a 13-year-old travel team.
“I remember I was 13, around the time when you go to your first year playing on a big field. There were already a few guys who had hit puberty and could get the ball there and could really pitch,” he remembered. “I made the All-Star team primarily as a hitter. But one time I came into a game and threw a few fastballs. The coach yelled out, ‘Remember what you’re in there for!’ I had a good changeup and he just wanted me to pump in changeup after changeup.
“’Remember what you’re in there for’,” he said again, reflecting on the moment. “I don’t think I’ll hear that again.”
So you can imagine why folks like Farrell, on first glimpse, couldn't see the flame-throwing potential in Bard. That would be reserved for his dad, Paul, a former player himself, who had no problem witnessing what might be.
"I would say that when he picked up a baseball for the first time he always had proper mechanics, even as a two-year-old," Paul Bard said. "He just threw the right way. I guess he just watched people and he would copy them and throw the right way. It just came easy for him."
Finally, in high school, Bard attended a showcase that saw him hit 90 mph on the gun. "It was then I thought," he said, "'I could make a living out of this.'"
C. McLeod would be one of the folks responsible for actually allowing Bard to make a living out of this baseball thing, guiding the Red Sox to taking the University of North Carolina as one of the organization's three first-round selections in '06.
Looking back, it was an opportunity McLeod never thought his club would get.
"You have a list of 'X' amount of players who you think are going to be gone. Daniel was in that mix," said McLeod of the then-starter, who was overshadowed a bit by his UNC rotation-mate Andrew Miller, who was drafted sixth overall in '06 by the Detroit Tigers. "He definitely had one of the best arms in the draft, if not the best arm. But once we got into the 20's I remember thinking, 'We've got a good chance at getting Daniel Bard!'
"I never thought he was unsignable. Maybe teams thought Andrew Miller was on his team and thought Daniel would be looking for the same (money). All I knew is that here was a kid who threw 100 mph with an arm that worked about as good as anyone I've ever seen."
Yet, after the draft, it once again took Bard a while to make the proper impression when it came to believing he was a major leaguer.
Bard stood in front of his Fenway Park locker extolling the notion that a lot of young players sometimes have a hard time adjusting to the kind of adversity that ultimately awaits in the big leagues. It is a reality from which some might not bounce back, (see Craig Hansen) and one from which others can make a recovery (see Cla Meredith).
(As a quick aside, it was Meredith, whose major league debut in 2005 began with two walks and a grand slam home run by Richie Sexson, who Francona consistently referenced Sunday when talking about the caution the Sox' took in bringing up Bard. "It might be a little quicker," the manager said of Bard's progression. "I don't think any of us had a hard time slowing him down, or wanting to slow him down, because he is such a bright piece of our future ... It wasn't like I was sitting here banging on Theo, 'You've got to get this guy here.' The last time I did that it killed us.")
But, as Bard pointed out, he has already experienced his fair share of obstacles, which should help his evolution. Those came in his first full pro season, when he combined to walk 78 batters and strike out just 48 as a starter with Greenville and Lancaster.
Fortunately for Bard, the Red Sox decided to give him more routine work the following offseason, placing him as a reliever for Honolulu in the now-defunct Hawaiian Winter League, where he struck out 15 and walked 15 in 16 2/3 innings. But it wasn't until the '08 spring training that the Sox officially passed on word to their former first-rounder that he was officially going to be coming out of the bullpen on a full-time basis.
It seems to have worked out.
STRIKEOUTS ARE COMING FOR PAP, BUT SO ARE BASERUNNERS
There was no doubt that the trademark jump at the end of each of the third-strike fastballs thrown by Papelbon were welcome signs for the Red Sox. It was, perhaps, the product of the closer finally perfecting an adjustment that had seen him go from a delivery closer to his '07 form than that seen in '08.
The performance was the first time since Keith Foulke in '04 accomplished the feat that a Red Sox reliever had allowed the first two batters to reach before striking out the side.
Yet Papelbon still has some work to do.
The outing against the Rays marked the eighth time he has thrown 19 or more pitches in an appearance, contributing to the 19.8 pitches per inning average Papelbon currently possesses. It took him until June last season to total as many extended outings.
But perhaps more alarming is the lack of clean in innings found in Papelbon's game log. It has been seven appearances now since his last outing without a baserunner, dating back to April 22, with four of the last five games including at least one hit by the opponents.
The positive emanating from the showdown with Tampa Bay? The strikeouts. After some concern regarding the closer's inability to miss bats, he has now fanned at least two batters in each of his last five appearances.
DUSTIN PEDROIA WON'T BE PLAYING 162 GAMES
Pedroia had stated in spring training that playing in every one of his team's games this season would be nice (albeit unrealistic thanks to Francona's philosophy of getting guys mandatory rest at some point in the season). That, however, won't be an option after the second baseman was told he will be sitting out the Red Sox' series opener in Anaheim, Tuesday.
Pedroia, who has played in each one of the Red Sox' 32 games, suffered a strained right groin after taking a third-inning swing. It forced him from the game, and most likely out of action for Tuesday, although Francona stated after the Sox' win that there is a good possibility the infielder will return to the lineup Wednesday.
"I just took a swing, and my cleat kind of got stuck in the ground," Pedroia told MLB.com. "It hurt pretty good. A day off tomorrow will be nice, and I already talked to Tito. He won't let me play it Tuesday. Then we'll go from there. I'll be out there as soon as I can."
Pedroia, who was hitting .432 in his last nine games and .320 for the season, is currently eighth in the major leagues in plate appearances (149) after finishing sixth in the category last season (726). He played in 157 games in '08.
TAKING STEPS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
David Ortiz is starting a Twitter account. Josh Beckett isn't. It was still a pretty decent day for both.
As of Sunday night, Ortiz hadn't posted on his new form of communication, but it might not have been a bad time to start. While the Sox DH has now gone 130 at-bats since his last home run -- the second-longest drought of his career -- his eighth-inning double off lefty reliever Brian Shouse served as a fairly decent highlight.
And the fact that Ortiz walked for the 10th straight game -- the longest streak by a Sox player since he did it over 11 contests in '05 -- wasn't bad, either.
"Against the guy that's one of the tougher guys on lefties, he stayed on it, banged it off the wall," Francona noted. "You could see the look on his face. That was a huge hit for us.
As for Beckett, he threw more pitches than any Sox hurler has totaled this season (118) while making his 200th career start. But, more importantly, with his second straight six-inning, three-run outing, the Sox' ace has back-to-back quality starts for the first time since Sept. 10-16 of last season.
JAVIER LOPEZ JUST COULDN'T FIND HIS WAY
This one wasn't easy for Francona, designating reliever Javier Lopez for assignment to make room for Bard.
"He's a nice kid, he's a gentleman, he works hard," Francona said of Lopez. "He's just having a hard time getting people out. Being the specialty guy, we weren't using him in that role. We were using him kind of in mopup. The way we were using him, we weren't getting the most out of our bullpen. So we talked to him last night and told him what we were going to do."
It was simply too difficult to overlook the struggles of Lopez this season. The lefty had allowed 13 runs and 20 hits in 11 2/3 innings, surrendering a .429 batting average to left-handed hitters.