Byrd hopes to follow Westbrook's lead
Game 4 starter says being aggressive key to beating Sox
CLEVELAND -- There were 44,402 fans at Jacobs Field hanging on just about every pitch that Indians starter Jake Westbrook threw at the Red Sox on Monday night.Teammate Paul Byrd was right there with them, watching all 104 pitches that Westbrook threw and confirming what he suspected to be the blueprint on how to pitch Boston's vaunted lineup. "He went right at them," Byrd said in the home clubhouse after Westbrook had pitched the Indians to a 4-2 victory in Game 3 and a 2-1 lead in the American League Championship Series. "He did a great job going right at them," Byrd said. "That's the way you have to pitch to them. You can't be afraid to throw strikes. Jake was outstanding." Byrd will keep that in mind when he takes the mound Tuesday night to pitch Game 4 at Jacobs Field with a chance to put the Indians within one game of going to the World Series. He'll be opposed by veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield for the Red Sox. "This may be the slowest throwing matchup of all time in the postseason," Byrd joked. Byrd has no need to revise his pitching style for Tuesday's start. What Westbrook did on Monday is exactly what Byrd has done his entire career. Even with what he calls "below-average stuff," Byrd is not afraid to go after hitters. "You know what you're going to get from Paul," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "He knows himself very well. He knows how to get hitters out his way. Great competitor, doesn't give in, and he just goes out and does his thing, and he has been doing it for a lot of years." Byrd's way is pretty obvious. This is a pitcher who walked 1.31 batters per nine innings, the lowest in the American League, and gave up 11.18 hits per nine innings, the highest in the league. The philosophy is simple. The hitters have to earn their way on base against Byrd, just as they had to against Westbrook on Monday night. "I don't mind giving up the most hits in the league as long as I'm going to give out the fewest free passes," Byrd said. "I'm going to come right at you. I'll take my chances. The way I look at it is, even if somebody hits .300 off me, they still get out seven out of 10 times. And if I don't walk you, I'll take that all day long." The league ended up hitting .301 off him during the regular season. But he still won 15 games, and that included an 8-4 victory over the Red Sox on May 30 at Fenway Park. In that game, he allowed nine hits over six innings but just two runs, one earned. "He's won a lot of regular-season ballgames, multiple postseason games, and you have to like every bit of that," Wedge said.
He also won his first playoff start this year, holding the New York Yankees to two runs on eight hits over five innings in a 6-4 victory in Game 4 that wrapped up the AL Division Series for the Indians. The victory vindicated Wedge, who had to spend a lot of time before the game explaining why he wasn't bringing back the hard-throwing C.C. Sabathia on three days to pitch for such a big game."I think the whole world wanted C.C. on the mound except for my mom, Eric Wedge and my wife," Byrd said. Byrd found a way to win, as he often has this year. This is a guy who looks for every possible advantage, including the old-fashioned, over-the-top windup that he developed after coming back from a shoulder injury in 2002. "I could see the writing on the wall," Byrd said. "I couldn't throw the ball very hard. So I went out when nobody was around, and I just prayed and said, 'Hey, I'm not looking at you here for healing or anything like that, but I'd love to stay in the game. I don't know how that's possible because I'm throwing 81 and I need to do something to shake it up and be deceptive.' "So I started swinging my arms kind of as a trial-and-error thing out on the back mound. Next day, I took that into batting practice. Hitters said they didn't like it at all, they couldn't pick up the ball. I thought maybe I'm onto something here, and the motion in my delivery before I started gave me a little momentum, and I think that's helped, helped me through the years [to] be deceptive." Another advantage that Byrd seems to have is having Kelly Shoppach behind the plate as his personal catcher. It started in Spring Training, when the Indians were worried that teams might have a better chance of stealing on Byrd because he was slow to the plate. So Wedge put Shoppach behind the plate because of his strong arm, liked what he saw and kept him there the entire season. That included the playoff game against the Yankees and will extend to Tuesday's start against the Red Sox. Shoppach will catch and Victor Martinez will move to first. It's a relationship that grew from early in the season and just kind of took on a life of its own," Wedge said. "We don't want to do anything to disrupt that." Big windup. Personal catcher. Go after hitters. Follow the example of Jake Westbrook. Byrd has his blueprint ready for Tuesday night. He knows it by heart, having won 16 games with it up to this point of the season.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.