Byrd gives Tribe starters another clinic

Byrd gives Tribe starters another clinic

CLEVELAND -- On Tuesday night, Paul Byrd did exactly what he said he would so.

He went right after the Boston Red Sox every step of the way. The Indians can only hope that C.C. Sabathia was watching.

"I'm just going to go after them and trust my stuff," Sabathia said afterward. "Go out and pound the zone."

Turns out he was paying attention, just as Byrd was watching Jake Westbrook on Monday.

It may not be a foolproof formula, but it seems to be working right now as Byrd pitched five scoreless innings that set up a seven-run outburst from his team's offense in the bottom of the fifth and carried the Indians to a 7-3 victory over the Red Sox in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.

Byrd has been the Indians' No. 4 starter this postseason but he has been the one others could look to for an example, as he is now 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA in two starts against the Yankees and the Red Sox.

"This is the second time he has stepped up and did exactly what we needed him to do," third baseman Casey Blake said. "He's probably -- at least in my eyes -- he's the MVP of our team right now just because when we needed a big ballgame out of somebody, he stepped up. And Jake last night, too. But Byrdie is kind of the unsung hero."

Byrd served notice right away that he might have something special going when he threw a 91-mph fastball by David Ortiz for strike three to end the first inning. That was the first of four Byrd strikeouts in five innings, but the most important lesson that he taught anybody who was watching is that he did not walk one batter.

"My goal going in was to move the ball in and out; inside part of the plate, outside part of the plate," Byrd said. "I think sometimes [the Red Sox] can scare people [to] shy away from throwing the ball in, thinking they're going to hit another home run. So that was my goal going in, was to move the ball in and out.

"I didn't really expect to strike anybody out. I was hoping to jam some people. I had a good fastball. I hit 90 miles an hour, which happens a few times a year. I high-fived a couple of guys in the dugout and said, 'Hey, pick me up here, I just hit 90.'"

The Indians didn't pick up Byrd right away. They had their own troubles against Tim Wakefield, who allowed just one hit through four innings. But Byrd matched him pitch for pitch and did him one better with a scoreless fifth inning.

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"There's something about Byrdie," catcher Kelly Shoppach said. "I have a hard time explaining it. He just has a knack for getting guys out and keeping us in the game. It was the same stuff he has had all year. He threw his fastball really well tonight and did just enough with his offspeed stuff."

Byrd received his reward in the fifth inning when his teammates scored seven runs off Wakefield and reliever Manny Delcarmen. But they needed 35 minutes to get the job done, and that seemed to erode the edge that Byrd had through the first five innings.

When he came out for the sixth, he immediately gave up a pair of home runs to Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz to make it a 7-2 game. Indians manager Eric Wedge responded by calling on reliever Jensen Lewis.

"I mean, it was very long," Byrd said about the Indians' fifth. "As a starting pitcher, you can get tight during that time. No excuses, though. I need to make better pitches when I go back out there. We had a 7-0 lead.

"I really wanted to get us seven, eight strong innings at that point, and I was a little disappointed. If you would have told me coming in, 'You're going to have seven runs, [but] you're going to have to sit for 35 minutes in the dugout, I definitely would have taken it. So it's a good problem to have."

Lewis immediately gave up a home run to Manny Ramirez, cutting the Indians lead to 7-3. But then he and Rafael Betancourt shut down the Red Sox the rest of the way.

When it was over, the three Indians pitchers had gone nine innings and not walked one single batter. Lesson over.

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