CLEVELAND - Paul Byrd's final pitching line was almost as dreary as the weather yesterday at Jacobs Field: 6 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO, 1 HR.
Yet his ugly numbers didn't dampen his spirit.
Byrd came up a big winner in his first start for the Cleveland Indians, beating the Minnesota Twins 11-6 in the Tribe's home opener.
His victory came 15 years after the Indians picked him in the fourth round of the 1991 draft. And his wife, Kym, whom he married while pitching in the minors for Cleveland, was on hand to see one of her husband's crowning moments in baseball.
"It felt good just to get out there and finally pitch for the Indians," Byrd said. "I was pretty emotional before the game after I put on my uniform and ran out on the field. I didn't pitch as well as I wanted to, but I was happy to get the win - my first in a
Cleveland uniform. It's a special one, for sure."
Byrd was spotted a 2-0 lead in the first inning and a 4-1 advantage after four. In the fifth, he gave up a two-run double to Minnesota's Joe Mauer, pulling the Twins to within 4-3.
The Tribe, though, gave Byrd plenty of breathing room in the fifth as Casey Blake belted a grand slam in a five-run inning.
Byrd allowed a two-run homer to Justin Morneau in the sixth, pushing his ERA to 7.50, before giving way to two relievers.
"I'll be able to pick my teammates up down the line," Byrd said. "Today, they picked me up. Casey had the big hit for us - a grand slam from the ninth spot. That was huge."
Byrd, 35, has a strange windup and odd throwing motion, born out of surgery on his right shoulder in 2000.
He attacks hitters from different angles.
Byrd doesn't baffle hitters and he is pretty easy on the radar gun.
His four pitches - a fastball, slider, curveball and changeup - normally hover around the mid-to-high 80s.
Byrd doesn't blow away anyone.
He spots his pitches well, changes speeds effectively and keeps hitters off-balance.
"I'm not going to change anything," Byrd said. "I can't throw fastballs down the middle and be successful."
After being drafted by the Indians, Byrd bounced around the minors for four seasons. He was eventually dealt to the New York Mets in 1994 by Mark Shapiro, then the Tribe's farm director and now the team's general manager.
There was no room for Byrd in the Cleveland organization or rotation at the time.
Not with hard-throwing youngsters Bartolo Colon, Jaret Wright, Chad Ogea and Julian Tavarez in the system.
Five major league teams later, Byrd's career has come full circle. He is back where it all started.
The Indians signed him to a two-year, $14.25 million contract in December. He is filling one of the two holes in the rotation left by the departures of American League ERA king Kevin Millwood and Scott Elarton.
Byrd went 2-2 with a 4.92 ERA in six starts this spring. And he's 3-0 in four career starts at the Jake, and 5-2 in nine starts against the Twins.
It didn't hurt that the Indians pounded out 17 hits yesterday, including two homers by Travis Hafner and Blake's decisive slam.
"Paul did a nice job out there for us today," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "Outside of a couple of pitches, he was putting the ball where he wanted it, and getting the job done. We don't need him to be perfect."
Byrd is a veteran with playoff experience. He was the only pitcher to defeat the Chicago White Sox in the postseason last year.
"I'm excited about being in Cleveland again," Byrd said. "My wife is happy, too. She knows all about my history here and the bus rides. She had to make sacrifices for me, putting her career on hold. That makes this a dream that we realized together."
Yesterday was a typical outing for Byrd, who entered this season with a career record barely above .500 (72-64) and a 4.23 ERA.
The Indians are counting on Byrd to provide leadership and quality innings.
If they get any kind of consistency from him at all, they very well could make the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
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