CLEVELAND -- Some of the most fun you can have in baseball these days is watching Paul Byrd and his old-school windmill windup and high leg kick. One-part Walter Johnson and one-part savvy career-extending move, Byrd borrowed the particulars from a bygone era, and watching him makes you feel as if you should be wearing a wool suit, chomping on a cigar and discussing President Calvin Coolidge's current tax-cut plans.
|Paul Byrd's unusual delivery befuddles Red Sox hitters. (US Presswire)|
For all you who belong in that second paragraph, allow Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach to explain the intricacies of the Byrd Man of Cleveland, who led a 7-3 whipping of Boston to push the Red Sox to the brink of elimination.
"It's hard, because I never really know how to explain what he does," Shoppach said. "He has a knack for knowing how to get guys out and how to keep us in ballgames."
It was perhaps the oddest pitching matchup in LCS memory, and it continued to set on its ear a series that has gone almost completely against all expectations.
If you were looking for sizzle and pop, the only place you were going to find it on this night was maybe at the burger grills at the Jacobs Field concession stands. Boston's Tim Wakefield floated his knuckler toward the plate at about 67, 68 mph. Byrd, as he says, "hangs out at around 84, 85." Neither one of them could have thrown the ball through a car windshield. But if pitching is all about changing eye levels and fouling up bat speed, well, each of them could write a thesis on it.
Byrd is 36, he's pitched for six teams and he's about as exciting as socks for Christmas. He won 15 games this season with the least impressive stuff this side of Charlie Brown, he's now 2-0 in the postseason, he's pushed his team to within one victory of the World Series ... and people are still scratching their heads and saying, 'Huh?'"
"Well, you know, he's not known for his velocity," Indians pitching coach Carl Willis said. "Obviously, he's known as a strike-throwing machine. He changes speeds ... all year, if he hit 90 on the speed gun, he'd come back into the dugout and make sure everybody was aware of it.
"He has confidence. He moves the ball in, out, up, down ... he pitches to contact."
And on an amazing number of occasions, that contact leads directly into an F-7, or P-4, or 6-3. He's a fly ball pitcher with the perfect combination of a burglar's guts and a historian's inquisitiveness.
That's what led to his old-school, pre-iPod, and-now-for-something-completely-different windmill delivery that arrived with him in Cleveland when he signed as a free agent before the 2006 season.
"I think he was playing around in a bullpen session one day a couple of years ago trying to get some rhythm and trying to create some deception," Willis said. "He was trying to get confident enough with it to take it into games.
"You think when you see his highlights, they're going to be in black-and-white."