|Red Sox starter Paul Byrd uses his head, ducking out of the way of a liner hit by Jhonny Peralta in the fifth inning. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
Paul Byrd stood in the Red Sox clubhouse Tuesday night, drenched in a celebration he never envisioned he would be part of again. Moments after his new team clinched a spot in the playoffs, Byrd thought back to roughly two months prior, when his season bottomed out and his career neared a crossroads.
"I was in last place," he said. "I was 3-10 with a 5.70 ERA. I couldn't figure it out. Wondering if I was washed up, if I'd ever have a chance to do this. Terry [Francona] and the Red Sox took a chance on me. That definitely meant a lot to me, that they put their faith in me when I was just starting to turn the corner."
Byrd strode before reporters last night after Boston's 5-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians, the team for which he pitched during the season's first 4 1/2 months, with that vigor drained out of him. He tried to focus on the team's result, but he could not look past the impediment he provided them in earning it.
The Red Sox gave Byrd a 4-0 lead after the first inning, a point at which "the game needed to be over," he said. After five innings, Byrd's night ended and the game was tied at 4. He allowed 11 hits, walked one, and struck out four.
"I don't want to come off selfish," Byrd said. "I'm glad we made the playoffs. I appreciate the Red Sox bringing me over here to be a part of it. But there's still business to be done. I have to take command and take control and not let them back in it. That's what's very frustrating."
Since his debut Aug. 16, Byrd forged four of the victories that helped the Sox into the playoffs, but his role once there remains to be determined. He and Tim Wakefield are the two candidates to become Boston's fourth starter in the postseason, and last night offered Byrd his final chance to make an impression.
Byrd pitched four seasons in relief, and he said last night he would be delighted and able to occupy a bullpen role in the playoffs if asked. He has not spoken with Francona about his playoff role, he said, and added he would be disappointed only if he was left off the playoff roster, which is highly unlikely.
"I would love to help our team in the playoffs, in whatever capacity that is," Byrd said. "That's just not for me to decide. I throw strikes and hit my spots. That's what I do. So none of that changes coming in relief. I'm OK with that. I'm just a little older. Have to warm up a little sooner."
Francona knows firsthand what kind of pitcher Byrd can be in the postseason. Byrd started Game 4 for the Indians against the Red Sox last season in the American League Championship Series. He earned the victory, allowing two runs in five innings.
Byrd faced his old teammates last night, which left him "a little amped up," catcher Jason Varitek said. Byrd shook off Varitek's pitch calls too much, the pitcher said. He second-guessed himself particularly against Victor Martinez, his old catcher, and Jhonny Peralta, who watched his pitches from shortstop, the clearest vantage point on the field.
"He looked like he was a little overexcited to face his former team," Francona said. "He was scattering some balls. He wasn't locating like he needs to. He left some balls over the middle."
The performance left Byrd partly grateful, mostly upset. He felt he had let down the team that rescued him. He was also on a team headed to the playoffs, his career back on track, and he didn't want to forget that.
"It was a frustrating night for me," Byrd said. "But, again, I just have to be excited about the fact that we won the game, too."
Adam Kilgore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org