Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pitching out of jams with Paul Byrd

(If you're not interested in what goes through the mind of a pitcher when he gets into a jam, you'll want to skip this one. This writer, though, finds that kind of thing absolutely fascinating.)

Paul Byrd allowed two baserunners in the first three innings he pitched on Sunday and never found himself in any sort of trouble as the Red Sox staked him to a 3-0 lead.

That changed in the top of the fourth.

Lefty Adam Lind led off with a double off the center-field end of the Green Monster, jumping on a fastball over the middle of the plate and lining it up the gap between Jacoby Ellsbury and Rocco Baldelli. Lyle Overbay then flew to Baldelli and Vernon Wells grounded to shortstop, forcing Lind to hold at second base.

That brought up catcher Rod Barajas with Travis Snider on deck and Jose Bautista behind him.

Here's what Byrd knew:

1. Barajas, a righthanded hitter, had four hits, all singles, in 12 career at-bats against him.
2. Snider, a lefty, had two extra-base hits -- a double and a home run -- in four career at-bats against him. Both of those at-bats came last September.
3. Bautista, a righty, had never faced him.
4. Lefties had OPS'ed .856 against Byrd in his career, and righties had OPS'ed .694. So far in the game, Byrd had allowed a single to righty Marco Scutaro and a double to Lind, a lefty.

With two outs, Byrd wanted to go right after Barajas. He wanted to go after him and get him out and not have to face a lefty with the bases loaded.

That's why he was so upset when he walked him on five pitches.

"The walk to Barajas just kills me because he's a righthander who doesn't see the ball super-well off me," Byrd said. "I made some poor pitches there."

That brought up Snider with runners on first and second and two outs -- and, it must be noted, Bautista on deck. Byrd had two options: Go right after Snider or unintentionally intentionally walk Snider and challenge Bautista.

There's a risk there, of course. For one thing, he'd be loading the bases -- and there was no guarantee that the command that deserted him against Barajas would return against Bautista. For another thing, the Blue Jays were getting close to turning the lineup over, and Byrd didn't want to have to face Scutaro and Aaron Hill and Lind again with runners on base.

On the other hand, walking the bases loaded would mean he'd get to pitch once again out of the windup. In his 30 starts a year ago, opponents hit .282 when Byrd pitched out of the windup and .295 when he pitched out of the stretch. His strikeout-to-walk ratio also fell from 3.13 out of the windup to 1.78 out of the stretch.

Like most pitchers, Byrd is most comfortable pitching out of the windup.

"Snider, on the other hand, is a lefty who sees the ball a little better off me," he said. "He hit a home run off me last year. I really wanted to pitch him carefully, and I knew that if I loaded the bases, I could go out of the windup. I was rushing out of the stretch."

Byrd walked Snider on three changeups and a high slider.

That brought Bautista to the plate.

Byrd started Bautista with a slider just off the outside corner that umpire Jim Wolf called a strike. He came back with a fastball up and in that was called a ball. His third pitch was a slider outside that seemed to get away from him, and he fell behind in the count, 2-1.

His fourth pitch was a better slider, a pitch that started on the inside half but then broke outside, and Bautista fouled it off.

He then reared back and threw a hard cutter, the hardest pitch he threw all day, a pitch that tailed away from Bautista on the outer half of the plate. Bautista got good wood on it and hit it to right field -- but in Fenway Park, that's where a pitcher wants to see the ball hit.

Right fielder J.D. Drew tracked it down for the third out.

Byrd pumped his fist, an animated celebration that's not exactly out of character for the 38-year-old veteran.

"That was big for me," he said. "(When) you get runs off Roy Halladay, you don't want to go out there and walk the other team back into the game. I was pretty frustrated after that inning, but, fortunately, we got out of it."

Said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, "It's hard not to be excited around Byrdie. He creates his own excitement. He's running around and patting everybody on the back and waving to his wife. He's got all kinds of things going on. ...

"The excitement is excitement about pitching and not the pressure of having to do well. He probably relished the fact that he was out there pitching in a game of that significance, and he really enjoyed that."

He'll get another shot next weekend, either Friday or Saturday in Chicago. If the Red Sox can get close to the result then that they got on Sunday, they'll be thrilled.

1 comment:

floydiansea said...

fun read, gave me a sense of the excitement that I didn't get from the AP story