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Byrd's uplifting outing clinches ALDS

Byrd's outing lifts Tribe into ALCS

NEW YORK -- Overmatched in payroll, but not in perseverance, the Indians toppled the vaunted Yankees and punched their ticket to an American League Championship Series berth against the Red Sox.

Behind a patient offensive attack, a bend-but-don't-break start from Paul Byrd and some resolute relief work on Monday night, the Tribe pulled off a captivating, 6-4 victory in Game 4 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium.

Now, it's on to Boston, where the Indians will open the best-of-seven ALCS on Friday night at Fenway Park. It will be the Tribe's first ALCS appearance since 1998.

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"This is what you dream of," center fielder Grady Sizemore said. "When we broke camp, this is where we wanted to be, and we believed we could do it."

To beat a Yankees team that had the best record in baseball over the last four months of the season and packs the punch of the most recognizable and robust lineup in the game, the Indians had to believe.

And their faith was tested further when the Yankees capitalized on the built-in advantage of their historic ballpark and took Game 3, giving a series that had looked to be in-hand for the Tribe a decidedly different feel.

A different feel, that is, for all of three pitches.

Because on the third pitch of this game, Sizemore proved the Indians were in no mood to head back to Cleveland for a decisive Game 5. That pitch came out of Chien-Ming Wang's hand, connected with Sizemore's bat and went sailing over the right-center-field wall for a leadoff home run.

The Tribe had clearly come to play.

"It was an exciting feeling," Sizemore said. "Obviously, I tried to build some momentum early. You want to jump on them as fast as you can and take the wind out of their sails."

Wang, starting on three days' rest, was sucking wind a bit in that first inning, as the Indians continued to come after him with singles from Travis Hafner and Jhonny Peralta, the latter of which knocked in another run.

And when the Tribe loaded the bases off Wang in the second inning on a controversial hit by pitch awarded to Kelly Shoppach, Yankees manager Joe Torre had seen enough. He made the call to veteran Mike Mussina.

Mussina quelled the waters a bit when he got Sizemore to ground into a double play, but a run still came across on the play to make it 3-0. And that lead was bumped to 4-0 when Asdrubal Cabrera shortened his swing in a two-strike count and lifted an RBI single to shallow left.

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This was the kind of early support the Indians hoped to hand Byrd, who had a 6.10 ERA against teams with winning records this season and whose fly-ball-inducing tendencies pose the threat of a big inning.

The Indians, rather than run the health and performance risks that would have come with starting ace C.C. Sabathia on short rest, put their faith in Byrd, shrugging off the scrutiny of the national media.

"It was Paul Byrd all the way for us," manager Eric Wedge said. "He was our Game 4 starter. And deservedly so. He won 15 games this year."

From the beginning of this game, Byrd looked poised to win one more.

The Yanks loaded the bases off him with one out in the bottom of the second, but Byrd calmly got Johnny Damon to pop out to third. Derek Jeter ripped a hard-hit grounder to Casey Blake at third, and the ball scooted off a diving Blake's glove for an infield single that drove in a run. But when Bobby Abreu flew out to center, Byrd had avoided a potentially damaging inning.

That sequence defined Byrd's solid five-plus innings of work. His only other hiccup came when Robinson Cano tagged him with a solo shot to lead off the sixth, knocking Byrd out of the game.

Byrd had joked that he was playing the part of the "little gun" to the bigger guns provided by Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. Clearly, the little gun fired a big shot into the heart of the Yankees' hopes.

"One of my goals was to keep their fans out of the game," Byrd said. "I didn't want to start walking people and hearing the crowd go crazy with each ball."

The crowd was largely held quiet, particularly when the Indians provided added separation and support for Byrd in the fourth. After Mussina intentionally walked Hafner to load the bases, Martinez ripped a two-run single up the middle.

And so it was a 6-2 lead that was handed to the Tribe bullpen in the sixth. As was the case all series, the 'pen did not disappoint.

Rafael Perez's lone miscue in two innings of work was the solo shot he allowed to Alex Rodriguez in the seventh. Rafael Betancourt, following a year-long trend, worked a perfect eighth. And closer Joe Borowski, following another trend, created momentary drama when he served up a solo homer to Bobby Abreu, but nonetheless got the final out in the ninth.

For Borowski, the game perfectly summed up the style of play that got the Indians to this enviable position.

"We've had each other's backs all year," he said. "Everybody always picked each other up. You can't ask for anything more. That's what makes it so special -- we have a different hero each night."

To those who dreaded the thought of yet another Red Sox-Yankees matchup in the ALCS, the Indians are heroes.

Likewise to those who appreciate the value of a well-constructed, mid-market club bringing down a giant.

"This team showed a lot of heart," Sizemore said. "For a lot of us, this was our first postseason, and we played well. It's a good feeling. It shows we've grown as a team. A lot of people picked the Yankees and overlooked us, but we were able to play our game and get it done."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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