EARLY IN spring training Josh Bard spoke to reporters about his planned gig as Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield's regular catcher. "My goal in this whole thing is to be better on October 30 than I am right now," he said. Bard had held the job once before, in 2006. But he was traded to San Diego a month into the season after allowing 10 passed balls and finding out that, as Rick Reilly put it in 2007, catching Wakefield is like grabbing "a gum wrapper in a hurricane."
Last week the Red Sox let go of Bard again, yet another twist in the Sox' yearly hunt for someone who can catch the knuckler without waiting for it to stop rolling. Bard, who was released and then signed by the Nationals, improved this spring, but Boston decided to anoint rookie George Kottaras as Wakefield's personal victim—er, catcher. Kottaras, 25, has a lower salary ($400,000, compared with the $1.7 million Bard would have earned). Plus he has knuckleball experience, having caught farmhand Charlie Zink at Triple A Pawtucket last year.
Kottaras got off to a good spring start; in his first game with Wakefield he caught 2 1/3 innings—and had only one passed ball.