Angels need Byrd to wind up a winner
Veteran with old-school delivery starts crucial Game 5 of ALCS
ANAHEIM -- Paul Byrd knows a thing or two about answering the bell, and that's what the Angels will ask him to do when he takes the ball in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.
Byrd was a last-minute choice for Game 1 of the ALCS after the Angels were stretched to a five-game AL Division Series against the New York Yankees.
And while the players were bathing in champagne in the Angels clubhouse and getting ready for their third cross-country flight in as many days, the team's braintrust was trying to figure out how to take a banged-up pitching staff and get it some relief.
With ace Bartolo Colon most likely out for the rest of the playoffs with a shoulder strain, the pitching staff was retooled. And because Jarrod Washburn's throat infection hadn't cleared sufficiently for manager Mike Scioscia to declare him a go for Game 1 of the ALCS, Byrd took the reins on three days' rest.
Byrd responded in Chicago the next day, pitching six excellent innings in the Angels' series-opening 3-2 win over the White Sox in the hostile confines of U.S. Cellular Field.
On Sunday, he'll get another chance to shine again.
"Tomorrow is going to be crucial," Byrd said before Saturday's Game 4, which the Angels entered with a 2-1 series deficit.
"You know, it'll be a pivotal game either way in my mind. I enjoy pitching the big games, I enjoy the pressure, I have so far, and I'm looking forward to it."
In Game 1, Byrd was up against a tough White Sox team, a tougher crowd, and one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues over the last two months, Chicago right-hander Jose Contreras.
He was also up against the fatigue of all those air miles and not much sleep to make them more tolerable.
But Byrd gave up two runs and the Angels eked out enough offense to get the job done.
"Game 1 was huge for us," Washburn said. "The bullpen was pretty thin at the time and Paul gave us six great innings. It was a tremendous pickup for the whole team, and I'm confident he can do it again."
Byrd said that while he felt fatigue in Game 1, he wasn't expecting it to hinder him in Game 5.
"I personally don't throw that hard," Byrd said.
"I'm not a max-effort pitcher, so I expect my arm to rebound well and be able to go late into the game, which I think is not as crucial as it was for our team a few starts ago, because our 'pen is a little bit more rested, but that's what I intend to do, and my arm should be fine."
Byrd has said all season long that the Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery he underwent in 2003 was a huge success, and that this year he feels like he's 18 again.
He signed with the Angels in the offseason as a free agent and responded with a 12-11 record, a 3.74 ERA and 22 quality starts, which ranked second in the Major Leagues.
He's also gaining national notoriety for his old-school windup, in which he pulls back both arms, then swings them forward as he comes to the plate. It brings to mind pitchers from the 1950s and '60s, which was something Angels general manager Bill Stoneman, a former big-league pitcher himself, marveled at.
"Not only does it allow me to put a little bit more on the ball with less effort, but the hitters don't like that," Byrd said.
"They want to see the ball as soon as they can, and when there's too much going on I think it's a distraction. ... I think it's a nice way to deliver the ball. I think they had something back then."
And the Angels hope Byrd has something now -- one more time against the White Sox. He said he won't change his approach because Game 5 means more than Game 1.
"I can't do anything different based on the importance of the game," Byrd said.
"I just have to pitch my game. I've said that all along. Even though it's playoffs, you're going to get 85, 86, 87 [mph] on the corners and I'm not going to strike too many people out, not going to give up too many runs, just keep us in the game and battle.
"That's just the kind of pitcher I am."
Angels starter John Lackey said that should be good enough.
"Paul's been great for us all year," Lackey said.
"He's as consistent as they come."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.