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White Sox 12, Red Sox 2

This Byrd start just doesn’t fly

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 5, 2009

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CHICAGO - It had seemed meant to be, the way that Paul Byrd walked off the coaching staff of his kid’s U-13 team and onto the mound in Fenway Park.

He had made Red Sox fans believe in a pitcher plucked from retirement, a reach of a signing, a man who hadn’t pitched in the majors in 11 months. But that belief was short-lived. That shutout pitching was short-lived.

To put it in perspective, all but one Sox starting position player had been removed from last night’s game by the bottom of the fifth inning, leaving a group that better resembled those on the field in late-March games played at City of Palms Park. The starters got an early night courtesy of their starting pitcher, as Byrd’s ERA went from 0.00 to 7.56.

Byrd had done the improbable in his first start this season for the Sox, beating Roy Halladay, instilling hope. He couldn’t do it a second time, exiting U.S. Cellular Field after recording just seven outs, in what was arguably the worst start of the season for a Boston pitcher. And this team has endured a one-inning outing from Daisuke Matsuzaka in Oakland, and a number of poor performances from John Smoltz and Brad Penny.

“Quite a difference, huh?’’ Byrd said. “It is tough. I was hoping to give our team a much better performance tonight. I don’t want to put this team in that situation. I want us to be in the game when I’m on the mound, so this is totally unacceptable for me. I shoulder the blame. I dropped the ball here. We’ll see if I can’t get it going my next time out there.’’

And so, one night after the Sox celebrated taking two of three from the Rays at Tropicana Field, they lost, 12-2, to the White Sox in front of 28,839 on the South Side. Making it more difficult to take was Texas’s win over Baltimore, cutting the Sox’ lead in the wild-card race to two games.

“It didn’t look like he was real crisp,’’ manager Terry Francona said of Byrd. “I think sometimes, you see it in spring training, like maybe the third or fourth start. And this was his third or fourth start. There were balls all over the field. Some weren’t hit hard, a lot were hit hard. It was one of those nights where everything they did went right. Not a lot went right for us.’’

It had started well, with Byrd looking good in a 1-2-3 first inning. But the first four White Sox batters of the second inning reached, resulting in two runs, as Byrd ended the damage by getting two strikeouts.

He stopped the White Sox briefly, but the third inning was enough to make a person long for Matsuzaka. While Matsuzaka was throwing a respectable, if not outstanding, rehab start for Triple A Pawtucket, the pitching was not nearly as good for the big club.

The first seven White Sox batters of the third inning went as follows: triple, single, double, single, popup, double, single.

“Byrdie, there’s a lot of times when he doesn’t locate, but he throws strikes and he’s got deception,’’ Francona said. “But tonight was one of those nights where not much went right. They fought some balls off the opposite way, they hit some balls hard. Again, it wasn’t real crisp. I know he doesn’t light up the radar gun, but when he’s got that deception, he does get away with some locations because of his deceptions. He didn’t tonight.’’

That single to the White Sox’ seventh batter of the third was the end for Byrd, as, with the score 7-0, he ceded the mound to Junichi Tazawa, the pitcher removed from his start today and relegated to bullpen to back up Byrd and Tim Wakefield.

He will not be backing up Wakefield now, not after the 3 2/3 innings he was forced to pitch last night. And while he managed to staunch the bleeding in the third inning, getting two outs to keep his inherited runner from scoring, he was not so lucky in the fourth. Because Tazawa also allowed five runs, as Byrd had in the third, marking the third time this season the Sox had yielded five runs in consecutive innings.

“He got kind of stuck in like a buzz saw,’’ Francona said of Tazawa. “We needed him to give us some innings. Once they started hitting, he needs to stay out there and pitch. He knew that. Just a tough night.’’

By the bottom of the fifth, the Sox had seemingly given up hope, as Freddy Garcia eventually allowed just one run over his six innings. The Sox made seven substitutions to begin the inning, taking out their position players, with the lone exception being shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Tazawa, too, remained in the game, left to bear the brunt for a bullpen not worth wasting on a night when the Sox clearly were not going to win.

“[I’ll] probably get a fine for holding up the game,’’ Francona quipped of the mass substitutions.

Though Byrd said he wasn’t concerned going forward, the Sox have some options (Tazawa, Matsuzaka) for the next time this spot comes up in the rotation. Byrd said he hasn’t been told anything about his next start, but he’s “foaming at the mouth to get back out there.’’ He doesn’t believe last night’s game signaled the end. He isn’t panicking. He just couldn’t make his pitches.

“I struggled to establish the ball in,’’ Byrd said. “Had some fastballs that leaked across the plate, and I never really established my fastball in. When I did make the good pitch, they seemed to just hit it where somebody wasn’t playing, and when I made a mistake they crushed it. It wasn’t what I was looking for my second time out with the Red Sox, but I’ve got to bounce back.’’

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