Sox Can't Catch Byrd

Game unravels in a hurry for Matsuzaka

BOSTON—A wily and experienced pitcher put on a clinic in shutting down a potent offense Wednesday at Fenway Park. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Daisuke Matsuzaka was not the lecturer.

Paul Byrd stymied the Sox with uncanny command and location while Matsuzaka allowed six runs on a season-high 12 hits and was yanked in the middle of an inning for the first time as a big leaguer as the Indians avoided a sweep by beating the Sox, 8-4, in the finale of a three-game series between the AL's top two teams in front of another sellout crowd of 37,091.

The Sox, who began the day tied with the Indians for second in the AL in runs scored (276), had plenty of opportunities against Byrd, who took the concept of pitching to contact to an impressive extreme. He allowed nine hits and struck out one as the Sox swung and missed at just three of his 77 pitches.

But Byrd avoided the big hit as he mixed and match—he complemented his mid-to-high 80s fastball with a cutter, slider, changeup and curveball—on the corners of the strike zone. He opened the game with nine straight strikes, threw a first-pitch strike to 25 of the 27 batters he faced and went to a three-ball count just once as he extended his streak of innings without a walk to 43. He threw 61 strikes overall.

"Man, I tell you what: I looked up at one point and I think he had close to 80 percent strikes," Terry Francona said. "We knew coming in he's not going to walk anybody. He has a lot of deception to his delivery and he threw a ton of strikes. Adding and subtracting, staying out of the middle. That was the kind of pitcher we expected. You have to hit him to beat him. He's not going to give you anything."

The Sox were 1-for-11 with runners on base in the first six innings against Byrd, who surrendered RBI groundouts to Jason Varitek in the second and J.D. Drew in the fourth. "[When] he has men in scoring position, he expands the zone just enough [so] that you are so aggressive that he gets you out," Alex Cora said. "He's a good pitcher."

Matsuzaka, meanwhile, worked out of trouble himself by stranding four runners in scoring position through four scoreless innings. But Matsuzaka allowed eight hits—five for extra bases—to the final 11 batters he faced as the Indians tied the game with two runs in the fifth and surged ahead with four in the sixth. Grady Sizemore crushed Matsuzaka's final pitch over the right field fence for a two-run homer.

"I didn't think he located his fastball like he has and like you need to against a team like Cleveland, with that lineup," Francona said. "Left a slider over the plate to Sizemore for the home run…against a lineup like that, if you don't consistently make pitches, they have that chance to hurt you. Even some of the fastballs [on which] he got outs tonight, e misfired on the other side of the plate and got outs. He wasn't locating like he can, like he has, like he will."

David Ortiz, back in the lineup after missing three games due to sore legs and dehydration, nearly tied the game with one swing of the bat in the seventh. Three consecutive singles in a span of six pitches to open the inning chased Byrd, but Tom Mastny retired Coco Crisp on a pop-out to third and struck out the scorching Kevin Youkilis (extended his hitting streak to 22 games with a third-inning single) before left-hander Aaron Fultz came on to face Ortiz, who fouled off five pitches—including one he wrapped just right of the Pesky Pole—before he lined out to Jhonny Peralta to end the threat.

"We took some good swings, we just weren't able to really get things going all together at once [against Byrd]," Varitek said. "And then when we did, he was out of the game and they got two big outs right away. David had a heckuva at-bat. Just didn't come through. [Fultz] made a good pitch."

Ex-Sox prospect Kelly Shoppach hit his first Fenway Park homer to spark a two-run eighth for the Indians, who racked up a season-high 18 hits. Mike Lowell hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the frame for the Sox, whose AL East lead dropped to 10 ½ games—the first time since May 23 their lead has decreased.


Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752.

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