Things were moving along just fine for Cleveland pitcher Paul Byrd, right up until Game 7 of last year's American League Championship Series.
Then word leaked that Byrd had taken human growth hormone, he acknowledged he had because of a medical condition, the Indians lost Game 7 and went home and then 2008 started and Byrd is standing here with an 0-2 record and a whopping 11.05 ERA.
OK, so that's an abridged version of what's happened over the past six or so months, but however long you analyze it, the bottom line is not good for Cleveland's Byrd man.
"My fastball just doesn't have a lot of life," the right-hander was saying after the Los Angeles Angels battered him for six earned runs and five hits over just three innings in Wednesday's 9-5 wing-clipping of Byrd and the Indians. "When I miss, it's like batting practice. You can't be perfect every pitch, but if you throw batting practice and you're not perfect, you just watch (the baseballs) go over the fence."
The uncomfortable question here is whether the aftermath of the HGH stuff from last October is having any effect.
Has it affected his concentration level?
"I feel like that's been pretty good," Byrd says. "As far as I know, it hasn't caused me to lose concentration on the mound. It's been distracting sometimes when I'm not on the mound. But on the mound, my head's been pretty clear. I'm just leaving stuff up."
Is he putting extra pressure on himself after the fact?
"Not that I know of," Byrd says. "I'm excited to help this team get off to a good start, and I've done the opposite. I'm not giving the team quality starts, which is what I usually do."
Sundials always have been more suited than radar guns to measure Byrd's slow, mid-80s fastball. For him, it is all about location.
When he struggled in Oakland last Friday (five runs, three earned, eight hits, two walks in 4 1/3 innings), Byrd thought perhaps the chilly evening air affected him adversely.
But as he noted after walking two more batters in three innings against the Angels, Wednesday was a beautiful day.
"There's 85 m.p.h. fastballs that guys foul off, that have life, cut, sink, is sneaky," Byrd says. "Then there's 85 m.p.h. batting practice fastballs with no life that don't move and look like they're on a tee, that aren't sneaking up on anybody.
"That's what I have right now."
Byrd next is slated to start Tuesday night in Cleveland against Boston in an ALCS re-match. By then, perhaps his fastball will have its sneak back. He sure hopes so. The Indians do, too. Because the longer he goes without it, the uglier it's going to get.
Likes: The MLB Extra Innings television package and XM radio. I don't mean to be a shill for other people's products here, but to be able to watch or listen to almost every game being played every night is fantastic. The technology available today to bring the home team's games to fans who have moved, or to give those who live nowhere near a big league ballpark all sorts of options, is way cool. Had they had these things when I was a kid, I might still be sitting in my parents' living room. ... Toronto having to re-think its $2 tickets because of too many fights. Listen, I'm not promoting fighting, but in the days of luxury suites, new ballparks and rising ticket costs, it's nice to see baseball isn't losing touch with its blue-collar roots. Keep the $2 seats -- and just hire bouncers instead of ushers for those sections. ... The Masters this weekend. I'm not a huge golf guy, but I do appreciate American institutions, and every time I see a TV shot from Augusta, the place looks breathtakingly beautiful. ... Two incredible Bruce Springsteen shows in Anaheim this week. Anytime you get Light of Day to start, you know anything could happen the rest of the way. Anytime you get Trapped, you know it's a great show. And when you get several different songs on night two, including Candy's Room, Brilliant Disguise, Meeting Across the River and Jungleland, well, you sure ain't going home unhappy.
Dislikes: The weekend approaching and baseball underway? You're on your own for dislikes today. I've got no grumpiness at all.
Rock 'N Roll lyric of the day:
"When it's one need
"In the night
"We get to share it
"Leaves you baby if you
"Don't care for it"
-- U2, One