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08/09/08 5:29 PM ET
Byrd goes distance, outduels Halladay
Indians, aided by two Blue Jays errors, clinch series victory
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
TORONTO -- Paul Byrd changed his glove. He changed his windup. He changed his curveball technique. And if he keeps this up, he might be changing uniforms, too. Byrd continued his masterful second half with a complete-game gem in Saturday's 4-2 win over the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. Going the distance for the first time since Sept. 1 of last season, Byrd notched his fifth straight quality start and served further notice to contending teams that he might be a valuable addition for the stretch run. It has been reported that Byrd has cleared waivers and can now be dealt anywhere, but that has not been confirmed. What is confirmed is that Byrd, who allowed just the two runs on five hits with no walks and two strikeouts against the Jays, has moved on from a miserable first half. "I knew I had to do something different," Byrd said. "I had to change. I feel good with where I'm at right now. I'm very confident. Better late than never." Byrd pitched late into this game and spared the Indians from having to dip into their unpredictable 'pen because of his remarkable efficiency. He needed just 94 pitches to get through the nine innings, retiring 12 of the last 13 batters he faced and 20 of the last 22. "There was no pitch count on the scoreboard," he said with a smile. "I didn't know when to get tired." Byrd, even on his best days, has often tired out by the seventh. But he only got stronger as this outing wore on. Early on, Byrd and the Indians found themselves in a 2-0 hole. Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo lost a Joe Inglett fly ball in the lights of the dome, and Inglett turned it into a triple, before scoring on a Marco Scutaro sacrifice fly. And in the second, Byrd served up an RBI double down the first-base line to Brad Wilkerson. A 2-0 lead placed in the hands of Jays ace Roy Halladay is all too often enough to send a team to its demise. But the Indians were pesky against the perennial American League Cy Award candidate in this one. No one was peskier than Ryan Garko, who returned from his two-game bench penance for not running out a ground ball vs. Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field on Wednesday and came through with two big hits. The first of those came in the fourth inning, after Choo doubled. Garko ripped a double of his own to center to get the Indians on the board. "He needs to be a run-producer," manager Eric Wedge said of Garko, "and that's what he did." The real production came in the sixth. That's when the Indians batted around against Halladay and took this game over. Jhonny Peralta singled to open the inning, and Choo reached on a John McDonald throwing error. After Ben Francisco put down a sac bunt to move the runners over, Garko delivered again, lining another double to left to tie it at 2. Andy Marte kept the inning going with a single to right to score Choo. And after Asdrubal Cabrera walked to load the bases, David Dellucci drew ball four on a full count to cap an inning that left the Indians ahead, 4-2. "I've felt that with this group, after all the injuries, this is the best overall approach we've had as a club this season," Wedge said. "I'm very pleased with the approach against one of the best pitchers in the game. We were seeing pitches, getting tough walks, we had some big hits and we were spraying the ball around." And Byrd was moving it around the strike zone and keeping it in the park. After leading the AL in homers allowed in the first half, Byrd hasn't served one up since his July 4 start in Minnesota. That's the biggest reason he has been able to go 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA over his past five starts. "I don't want to get too excited and jinx myself," he said. "But I have, for the most part, kept the ball in the yard. It's a lot easier to walk off the field when you've kept the ball in play." He's kept it in play with the help of a curveball that simply wasn't working for him in the first half. After a well-documented tutorial from Twins broadcaster and 287-game winner Bert Blyleven, Byrd has newfound confidence in the curve, as it's helped him tremendously against left-handed hitters. "It's nothing like [Blyleven's] curveball," Byrd said. "But for Paul Byrd, it works." Byrd still works for Cleveland, but contending teams can still make a run at him before the Aug. 31 waiver deadline. The Indians haven't exactly made it a secret that they'd entertain offers for Byrd, who is eligible for free agency following this season. This second half, then, has had the feel of an audition, of sorts, for Byrd. "It is in the back of my mind," he said of the trade possibility. "But the bottom line is the [non-waiver] Trade Deadline came and went, and I'm with the Cleveland Indians. I still feel I'm in a win-win here, because I love these guys, and I'd love to help them finish strong. I'd also love to play for a playoff team. "There's a couple years where you're just happy to be here. Then all of a sudden, you realize you play this game because you want to win and want to win a World Series. I'd love an opportunity to do that."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.