December 19, 2014

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Byrd’s magical performance turns into 3-1 series lead

CLEVELAND — Paul Byrd said Tuesday was a magical night.
And he wasn’t just talking about hitting 90 mph on the radar gun.
“I hit 90 tonight out of nowhere,” said the veteran right-hander known more for his guts and smarts than anything even resembling a big-time fastball. “We all know that happens a few times each year.”
It was 91, actually, and it came in the top of the second on a pitch he blew by J.D. Drew for strike three, one of his four strikeouts on the night.
No, the magic had to do with his performance in Tuesday night’s 7-3 win over the Red Sox and what it meant for the Indians and himself.
For the Indians, it meant a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series, leaving them just one win away from their first trip to the World Series in 10 years.
For Byrd it meant redemption, pure and simple. After all, his first season with the Indians was nothing special … and he knows it.
More than once this season, Byrd has said he wanted to make up for the mediocre performance (10-9, 4.88 ERA) he turned in last year.
Consider that debt paid. Maybe not in full, because there’s still a lot of season left, but he doesn’t have to issue any more I.O.U.’s to the team or its fans.
Not after the season he’s had and especially not after the two gems he’s turned in this postseason.
Tuesday night the 36-year-old with the old-school windup was as responsible for the win as anybody wearing an Indians uniform.
All he did was hold a scary Boston lineup to no runs and just four hits through the first five innings, matching Boston starter Tim Wakefield and his wobbly knuckler scoreless inning for scoreless inning until the Indians offense blew the game wide open with seven runs in the bottom of the fifth.
This on the heels of the 6-4 win he orchestrated in Yankee Stadium that clinched the division series for the Indians.
That gives the slow-ball hurling Byrd a 2-0 record this postseason to go with the 15-8 record and 4.59 ERA he posted during the regular season.
“He was the story of the night,” Tribe reliever Jensen Lewis said of Byrd. “There’s a reason why he won 15 games. He’s won two big games for us in the postseason. He’s a warrior.”
Byrd wasn’t perfect, giving up two no-doubt home runs to Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz to open the sixth. The blasts ended Byrd’s night, but they came after he was sitting around for 35 minutes as the offense seized control of the game in the fifth.
“It was very long,” he said of the wait. “As a starting pitcher you can get tight. No excuses though. I have to make better pitches when I go out there.”
He made plenty the first five innings, setting the tone immediately with a 1-2-3 first in which he needed just eight pitches, seven of which were strikes.
For the night, 54 of his 73 pitches were strikes and he didn’t pitch from behind in a count until the top of the third. It was the eighth batter he faced.
“This team (Boston) is patient,” Byrd said. “They don’t swing at bad pitches. If they fall behind, you have to come in the strike zone a little bit more. … I think our goal after the first game (a 10-3 loss) was to be more aggressive, try and get ahead in the count and make them hit our pitches.”
In other words, make a little magic.
Contact Kevin Aprile at 329-7135 or kaprile@chroniclet.com.