Tribe turns to Byrd in Game 4
Veteran right-hander looks to close out ALDS vs. Yankees
NEW YORK -- He doesn't possess a fastball that would make fans in the stands react in awe when the pitch hits the glove of catcher Kelly Shoppach or Victor Martinez. Truth be told, Paul Byrd's heater won't exactly rate a high measurement on the speed gun.
Byrd also doesn't feature a spectacular out-pitch with the ability to buckle the knees of opposing hitters.
What the veteran right-hander does have is the task of closing out the American League Division Series on Monday night at Yankee Stadium, against the AL's best lineup, which worked its way off life support on Sunday evening.
And despite some cries for staff ace C.C. Sabathia to return to the mound on three-days' rest for Game 4, the 15-game-winner leaves little doubt within his teammates for his ability to lead the Indians into the ALCS against Boston.
"We have a lot of confidence in Byrdie," Sabathia said. "He's a veteran who has been here before, and pitched great all season. He deserves the chance to close this out. We look to him to pitch a good game [Monday]."
"People don't see it because of his personality, but he's very confident," added Cleveland pitching coach Carl Willis of Byrd. "He understands he has to throw strikes to have success, and that's really huge against this club. They don't swing at bad pitches. They make you throw it over the plate."
Control should not be an issue for Byrd, who walked 28 over 192 1/3 innings this past season. Pitching in the postseason also won't be a foreign experience to the 36-year-old, who was the only hurler to defeat the White Sox during their historic 11-1 run to the 2005 World Series.
During Byrd's only career postseason win in the 2005 ALCS, he allowed two runs on five hits in six innings with one strikeout and one walk. Nothing overpowering, but he certainly gave his team a chance to win.
Keeping the Indians in the game against New York will be Byrd's goal once again on Monday, even if he's not as flashy as Sabathia or Fausto Carmona, Cleveland's big guns.
"I'm kind of like a little gun," said Byrd with a smile, addressing the media after Cleveland's 8-4 loss on Sunday. "Yeah, we had two Cy Young candidates and then Jake [Westbrook] and myself. I'm excited to get the start. I'm looking forward to it. A great atmosphere, a great place to pitch."
"He has to command the baseball, to both sides of the plate, and change speeds," Willis added. "He's a four-pitch pitcher, but he won't overpower people."
According to Willis, the Indians thought about starting Sabathia in Game 4 for "maybe a minute." But that thought came before the Division Series ever began.
Any slight remaining uncertainty as to a possible Game 4 starter was erased by Sabathia's 114-pitch effort over five innings in Game 1. Wills and manager Eric Wedge understand the present chance for their franchise to make history and want their best setup possible on the field to foster hopes and dreams becoming a reality.
At the same time, they don't want to put a player at some sort of unnecessary risk. This combination leaves Sabathia ready for a possible Game 5, and Byrd as the man to take the mound against the rejuvenated Yankees.
"It's more important to us about what we do and about ourselves just in regard to how we play, and what we need to do individually versus who we're playing and where we're playing," Wedge said. "Paul does a good job with that, as well as a number of our guys. He has a great understanding of what he needs to be successful."
Byrd finished the 2007 campaign with a 2-3 mark and 5.21 ERA in September. He also made one start against the Yankees, yielding seven runs on seven hits over two innings.
For better of for worse, it will be Byrd's craftiness on his regular turn Monday over Sabathia's power on short rest. The Indians and Byrd believe this particular decision ultimately could play out for their playoff best.
"I've wanted to pitch," Byrd said. "I would have been happy if we swept, but it didn't happen. So, I'm excited to take the ball for Game 4."
"You know, it's where we are," Wedge added. "We knew we were going to need four starters if it went that far here in the series."
"So, why mess around with what has been successful," Willis concluded.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.