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BOB RYAN

Byrd delivers a striking performance

Can't win 'em all.

Well, you can't.

The Red Sox lost to the Indians, 8-4, last night. But they still won the series, and now they've won seven of their last eight series. Teams that keep winning series after series after series are still playing in October. You can look it up.

Hey, if you're going to lose, why not lose to Paul Byrd? The man comes in here with his 1936 windup (it's like seeing Rick Barry come back to shoot underhanded free throws), not having walked a man since April 26, and throws first-pitch strikes to 25 of the 27 batters he faces. He leaves the game after six innings (plus three singles to start the seventh), and now he's gone 43 innings without going ball four. That's craftsmanship.

"He's got not just control, but command," explained Cleveland manager Eric Wedge. "The difference is, control's on the plate and command is cutting up the plate. That's what Paul does."

Byrd threw 61 strikes and 16 balls. Seriously.

"I looked up at one point and I think he had close to 80 percent strikes tonight," marveled Sox manager Terry Francona. "We knew coming in he is 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 is not going to give you anything."

Byrd is 36. Originally drafted by Cincinnati in 1988, he spurned the Reds and instead went to LSU, where he pitched in the 1991 national championship game. The Indians drafted him in 1991, but they traded him to the Mets in 1994 and here he was, five organizations later (Atlanta twice), back whence he cometh, an Indian for the second time. Nothing much has changed. He still has marginal stuff, but he still throws strikes. And he starts everything off with an arms-swinging relic of a windup that Bob Feller would be proud to call his own.

What he did last night was nothing we haven't seen before. Two years ago, he came in here as an Anaheim Angel and threw seven innings of four-hit, shutout baseball. He may have so-so stuff, but no one in baseball maximizes his equipment any better.

Now, the Red Sox did get those three straight singles from Jason Varitek, Alex Cora, and Dustin Pedroia to open the seventh. At this point, they were trailing only, 6-2, with the top of the order coming up.

Wedge summoned righthander Tom Mastny and quite obviously told him to retire Coco Crisp on a foul pop to third and to strike out Kevin Youkilis. Then Wedge thanked Mastny and summoned Aaron Fultz to face David Ortiz. His instructions to the veteran lefthander were equally obvious: Battle Big Papi through eight terrifying pitches and then have the Big Guy line softly to third.

OK, OK, I can't prove that's what he told them, but that's what happened. It was big-time relieving.

Mastny's contribution was huge, but the big drama was wrapped up in the Ortiz at-bat. I mean, duh.

"The most intense at-bat of the night, hands down," offered Cleveland catcher Kelly Shoppach.

The confrontation was a tribute to both of them. Fultz got Papi down, 0 and 2, by making him look bad. Papi flailed wildly at the first pitch and barely made contact with the second. The next one was outside. 1 and 2. Papi fouled one to the left, foul-tipped another to the backstop, took a verrrry close pitch on the outside to make it 2 and 2, stayed alive by just barely making contact, and then drilled a screamer to right, foul by a good 10 feet.

"The one bad pitch," said Shoppach.

"I was lucky," agreed Fultz. "It was a slider in the wrong place. He got his bat head around on it too quickly. It was a tough pitch to keep fair."

Fultz said he was never worried about it going foul. "The umpire was already throwing me another ball," he explained.

That was Big Papi's big chance. All he could do with pitch No. 9 was hit a meek humpbacker to third baseman Casey Blake.

Fultz had pitched Papi with respect, but not with fear. "He hit a home run off me last year in Philadelphia," Fultz said. "The next day, I got him to pop up."

There was never a question about going after Papi, either. "Normally, you'd be more selective," Fultz said. "But not with Manny [Ramírez ] on deck."

The guy all those Cleveland pitchers were throwing to is a pretty nice story himself. You remember Kelly Shoppach, don't you?

Sure you do. He's the catcher who came up briefly in 2005 to spell Varitek and then couldn't get off the schneid. He went 0 for 11 before being sent back to Pawtucket, and then tacked on four more fruitless ABs before the Red Sox packaged him in the Crisp deal.

He's been doing a nice job as the backup to Victor Martinez, and last night he had a career game with a single in the fifth, a single in the sixth, a laser beam of a homer off J.C. Romero in the eighth, and a single in the ninth. It was his first career four-hit game, but he didn't want to overplay the meaning of getting it here.

"It's not like I left here on bad terms," he said with a shrug. "I was a young player who needed to go somewhere. They taught me a lot about the game. But it was nice to do it here."

It was Cleveland's night. No arguments. The Indians pounded out a season-high 18 hits, roughing up Daisuke Matsuzaka for 12 of them. Nineteen of their last 26 games have been on the road, and now they get to go home to The Jake, where they are an eye-popping 17-4.

You know, some of these other teams can play, too. If you were a disappointed fan at last night's game, think about that. And be grateful you saw Paul Byrd. Someday he's taking that archival windup home and we'll never see anything like it again.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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