Homers help, don't hurt Tribe's Byrd
Indians drive three out, while starter avoids big inning by Halos
ANAHEIM -- It stands to reason that the Indians would trade their staff ace, announce to the world that they are out of contention in the American League Central Division, then play some of their best baseball of the season, right?No, of course not. But little has stood to reason for the Indians this season, so why should this latest stretch, in which they've won seven of eight games? The Indians' inverted ways were again on display Monday night, when starter Paul Byrd, felled by the long ball all season, was instead helped by homers in a 5-2 victory over the Angels. Andy Marte, Casey Blake and Jhonny Peralta all went deep in support of Byrd. And Byrd, who won for the first time since June 6, did his part by keeping the ball inside Angel Stadium. "Maybe this is a sign," Byrd said, "that things are going to turn around for me and for the Cleveland Indians." Or maybe this was a start that could make Byrd more desirable to contending teams looking to add to their rotation between now and the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline. Whatever the case, this start from Byrd was a welcome one for an Indians team that has watched him labor on the mound for the better part of the season. In fact, Byrd's last start in this building -- a three-inning outing on April 9 in which he served up three homers and took a 9-5 loss -- was indicative of the way his disappointing first half went. "I've pitched a little up in the zone this year," said Byrd, who has allowed an AL-leading 23 homers. "I've elevated the ball and made poor pitches that have left the park." No on this night, though. Byrd had several opportunities to make that crippling poor pitch with runners on, but it never came. The only run he allowed in 5 1/3 innings of work came when Jeff Mathis hit a line-drive single to score Garret Anderson from second with two outs in the second inning.
|"Maybe this is a sign that things are going to turn around for me and for the Cleveland Indians."|
|-- pitcher Paul Byrd|
"I remember wishing [Shoppach] had gone out there when it was 2-0," manager Eric Wedge said with a laugh. "Ultimately, it worked. That's something nobody will notice, but it was very big for [Byrd]."Izturis' out might go unnoticed because of all the big blasts that followed for the Indians.
Marte put the Indians up for good in the fourth, when he took Ervin Santana's 1-1 offering out to left. In the fifth, Blake pushed the Tribe's lead to 4-1 with a two-run shot after Grady Sizemore doubled. The Indians have had a penchant for such power of late. They have homered in eight straight and 16 of their last 17 games. And home runs aside, Wedge has been pleased with the quality of the club's at-bats since a July 10 team meeting in which he expressed his disappointment with what he was seeing at the plate. "I felt like everything was there in regard to our approach and how we play the game," Wedge said. "What I wasn't pleased about was the fact that it wasn't translating in regard to performance. We were missing pitches at the plate, pitches where you foul it off or try to do too much, versus just squaring it up." They squared it up plenty in this game, and Byrd was the benefactor. But he was in danger of squandering that 4-1 lead in the sixth, when he put two on with one out, and Wedge, knowing Byrd's tendency to get roughed up his third or fourth time through a lineup, had seen enough. In came reliever Rafael Perez, and with him came two of the biggest outs of the ballgame. Perez got Chone Figgins to ground into an inning-ending double play. Perez went on to give the Tribe 2 2/3 innings of relief in which he all he allowed was a too-little, too-late solo homer from Howie Kendrick. "Rafael Perez was really big for us," Wedge said. "To come in and get the double play and extend that all the way into the eighth inning against some tough righties and lefties, he did a great job." Perez's job, combined with Peralta's insurance homer off Justin Speier in the eighth and closer Masa Kobayashi's perfect ninth in which he struck out the side, made this a surprisingly easy victory against the team with baseball's best record. It all started with Byrd giving himself and his team a chance to win. For the most part, that hasn't happened this season, and it's been a particular struggle for Byrd over his last nine starts. "That was the old me out there," Byrd said. And with the pressure to live up to preseason expectations now removed, it appears these are the new Indians.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.