Behind Byrd, Indians roll to sweep
Tribe wins fifth stright after rain delays start of game
CLEVELAND -- Paul Byrd called it "Cub Scouts 101."He could have been talking about his team's place in the standings as much as his own performance Thursday. Their schedule was thrown out of whack early, their offense hasn't been quite as consistent as hoped, they've continued to make errors in the field and they've seen a couple winnable games go wayward in the ninth inning. Despite those faults, however, the Indians have found a way to survive. When they finished off a quick, two-game sweep of the Rangers, and extended their winning streak to five games with a 9-4 victory at Jacobs Field, the Indians remained sitting right where they want to be -- first place in the competitive AL Central. "Like we talked about during that rough stretch [early in the month]," Wedge said, "you saw the work going into it, in terms of approach. It takes time for that to leak into the game. We're starting to see that." The Indians' approach at the plate against right-hander Kameron Loe and the Rangers' bullpen was a dogged one on this day. They took the lead early and added on late, making what could have been a difficult day for Byrd a rather smooth ride. Byrd, you see, didn't have his best stuff. His slider didn't slide. His splitter didn't split. About all he had at his disposal was a fastball that barely cracks 90 mph. But Byrd made the most of what he had, and what he had included some defensive help, which came in handy in the first inning, when the first three batters he faced all reached to load the bases. "That had disaster written all over it," Byrd said. Instead, Mark Teixeira sent a fly ball to shallow left field that was caught by Shin-Soo Choo. Kenny Lofton tried to tag up from third, but Choo gunned him down with a perfect pitch to the plate. "That was a huge pick-me-up," Byrd said. "That was the key to the game. It changed the momentum and gave me a lot of confidence." The Indians gave Byrd plenty more reason to be confident when they ripped into Loe with a three-run first, punctuated by Trot Nixon's two-run homer to right -- his first in a Cleveland uniform. Choo sparked another big inning by leading off the second with a single. He was driven home by Kelly Shoppach's double into the left-field corner, and Shoppach himself later scored on a wild pitch. Already, the Tribe was ahead, 5-1. But, unlike a year ago, when the Indians were often prone to impoverishing their offense in one fell swoop, this attack kept coming, albeit in a subtle way. In the sixth, with the bases loaded and reliever Scott Feldman on the mound, Grady Sizemore knocked in a run with an infield single to short, and Casey Blake drew a run-scoring walk. Left-hander Ron Mahay was brought in to face Travis Hafner, and Pronk, too, forced ball four to make it 8-3 and all but end it. "We depended so much on the big inning last year," Shoppach said. "But when you keep putting baserunners on [throughout a game], you put so much pressure on the defense and the pitching. It's a lot harder on them." Although he wasn't particularly pleased with his own showing, Byrd's outing couldn't have been much easier. He gave up the first of two Sammy Sosa home runs on the day when he gave up a solo shot to the left-field bleachers in the top of the sixth. But that blast, and the eighth-inning one off Tom Mastny that followed, mattered not. "He was up a little from time to time," Wedge said of Byrd. "But he was able to get the ball back down and make some pitches." In observing this Indians team through what has been a bizarre first month of the season, Byrd hasn't seen anybody get down, even when Mother Nature threw them some curveballs and the Yankees handed them a three-game sweep in heartbreaking fashion. Rather, Byrd sees a team that has provided some distinct lessons in survival. "There are great players in this clubhouse, but great people with good attitudes, too," Byrd said. "Guys have come together, and that shows on the field. We've rolled with the punches and come out on top."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.