10/09/07 3:30 AM ET
Byrd shines, silences critics
Veteran righty fueled by faith of manager, teammates
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
After all, he started Game 1 of the 2005 American League Championship Series for the Angels amid the playoff pomp and circumstance and became the only pitcher to defeat the White Sox during their 11-1 run to a World Series title in 2005.
But Sunday night's postgame press conference made Byrd feel a little bit different. According to Byrd, he left this interview session at Yankee Stadium, feeling, well, like a loser.
Byrd recounted this moment with a kid-in-the-candy-store sort of smile plastered across his face and three kinds of alcohol being poured on his head, after working five-plus gritty innings in the Indians' clinching 6-4 victory over the Yankees in Game 4 on Monday. The 36-year-old veteran made Cleveland manager Eric Wedge look like a genius by going with Byrd on regular rest over C.C. Sabathia on three days' rest.
Such a vibe did not exactly find its way to Byrd during his session with the media after Sunday's loss, though.
"I only had two questions," said Byrd, who actually was asked three questions, but why ruin a very humorous tale being shared by one of the men of the hour. "The first one was, 'Did you think they were going to go with C.C.?' The second one was, 'If they would have gone with C.C., how would that have made you feel?'
"So, I was waiting for question three but there wasn't one," added Byrd, pausing to laugh and to wipe champagne from his brow. "I went back to the hotel and told my wife. I really kind of used it to motivate myself a little bit."
Watching Byrd pitch with the naked eye leaves an impression that he shouldn't be very hard to hit. After all, his fastball, with a little extra push, might nip 90 mph, but it usually nestles in around the mid- to upper-80s.
He throws four pitches, but none of them could be considered big finishers causing opposing hitters to beware. Instead, Byrd knows how to pitch by changing speeds and hitting spots, and ultimately giving his team a chance to win.
Often times, this particular approach can be tougher on hitters than facing a hurler featuring a 99-mph fastball or big-bending curve.
"Those guys who know how to pitch are the hardest guys to hit," said Cleveland hitting coach Derek Shelton, focusing specifically on Byrd. "The credit tonight goes to Paul Byrd.
"That offense is one of the best in baseball, but he executed pitches. And the way he pitches and how he uses both sides of the plate, it makes it difficult. It's almost tougher facing guys like that because you never know what you will get. Will he pitch forward or backwards? Byrdie did a great job against an outstanding lineup."
After pitch No. 77 from Byrd on Monday was launched for a solo home run by Robinson Cano leading off the sixth, Cleveland manager Eric Wedge replaced the veteran with hard-throwing, rookie left-hander Rafael Perez. Byrd's raw numbers were far from spectacular, allowing eight hits, walking two and striking out two.
The fact that Cleveland led by a 6-2 margin upon his departure, though, was the only significant number for Byrd and his teammates. These were the same teammates who had nothing but confidence in Byrd and support for Wedge's decision, even with a little piece of baseball history on the line for the Indians.
"He needs to get a little more credit. I mean, Paul Byrd won 15 games for us," Cleveland first baseman Ryan Garko said. "He has good stuff, and he knows how to pitch. It's going to sound a little cliché or whatever, but he just went out there and battled and showed so much heart."
"It's not like we were throwing someone out there with five innings pitched all year," added Cleveland closer Joe Borowski. "You can't say enough about Paul Byrd tonight. He took the ball and threw five great innings."
A plan of attack laid out by Byrd after the victory pretty much belied the veteran wisdom espoused by his teammates. He basically wanted to throw strikes and keep the Yankee Stadium crowd of 56,315 out of the game. His only disappointment was that he likes to work at a faster pace than he did Monday, keeping his defense fresh and alert.
His past postseason experience also served as a key to Byrd's present success.
"You learn how to tune things out and not complain too much if there's a call against you," Byrd said. "The strike zone gets a little smaller in the playoffs, and I knew to expect things like that. I shifted my game plan a little bit to get ahead. I didn't try to be too fine too early."
"Give Byrd credit. He made good pitches, not only against me, but against our whole lineup," said Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who finished 1-for-3 against Byrd, including a strikeout on an 86-mph fastball with two runners on base in the first inning. "He really threw the ball magical tonight. There's no explanation and no excuses -- he was just better."
For much of the year, the Indians played the role of the underdog -- first to the Tigers in the American League Central, then to the Yankees in the Division Series and now to the Red Sox in the ALCS. Byrd seems very familiar with such a distinction.
Sunday's press conference didn't exactly leave Cleveland's David with a warm glow heading into Monday's crucial start against Major League Baseball's Goliath, but it certainly didn't weaken his resolve. Not with Wedge and Byrd's teammates firmly standing in his corner.
"Yeah, I so appreciate that. I can't tell you how much," said Byrd of Wedge's support, in particular. "He doesn't have to do that. We have two Cy Young candidates. Two amazing pitchers. If there's anybody that would deserve to bump me, it would be C.C.
"If I threw harder, nobody would say that," added Byrd with a laugh, concerning his Monday presence being questioned. "Or if I was taller or if I had more hair. But I'm balding and I throw 84 or 85, working it around. You just learn to live with that label, underdog and overachiever. It just makes moments like this more special.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.