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Royals 5, Red Sox 1

Greinke handcuffs Sox

5-run first off Byrd is plenty for Royals

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 23, 2009

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - It was the eight straight balls that got to him. That, after all, is the opposite of what Paul Byrd is about.

With the first two Royals singling in the first inning of last night’s game, the Red Sox starter faced Billy Butler. He walked him on four pitches. Then Byrd faced Mike Jacobs with the bases loaded. He walked him on four pitches. And even though plate umpire Andy Fletcher might have squeezed Byrd, he’d still allowed a run because of his wildness.

It would get worse. By the time the inning was over, Kansas City had scored five runs. And though Byrd didn’t allow another run in his 6 2/3 innings, it hardly mattered. Not with Zack Greinke on the mound for the Royals. It was just a matter of time before the Sox fell, 5-1, in front of 21,228 at Kauffman Stadium.

“I’m frustrated,’’ Byrd said. “I’m not going to get any sleep. I thought I had great stuff tonight. I just overthrew a little bit in the first inning, just couldn’t get the outs. Against Greinke, you don’t want to be down, 5-0. It just deflates the team. Real frustrated with myself. I’m glad I came back and threw some innings and helped the bullpen out, but I’m not really here to eat innings. That’s not my job.

“I’m here to get on the mound and give our team a chance to win. Tonight, I didn’t do that. It’s a little frustrating.’’

A series against the Royals could have been a time for the Sox to gain ground. With the Yankees playing the Angels in Anaheim, Calif., and the Rangers playing the A’s in Oakland, they seemed to have a chance. But they gave away Monday night’s game, then ran up against the otherworldly Greinke.

The Cy Young Award candidate didn’t disappoint, holding the Sox to just two hits in six innings in improving to 15-8. He walked three, but he never allowed a runner past second, and that only hap pened twice (once on Dustin Pedroia’s double in the first, once on consecutive walks to J.D. Drew and Jason Varitek in the fifth).

Asked whether he thought Greinke deserves the Cy Young, David Ortiz said, “Why not? He’s got good numbers for it. Wish I could vote for the Cy Young Award winner. I might give one vote to him.’’

There was a bit of good news, however. On a night it appeared the Sox might have to go to their bullpen early, Byrd refused to kill the relievers. He fell one out short of getting through seven after settling down. But that hardly tempered his disappointment.

He had known from his warmups that he had good stuff last night. The stuff just didn’t translate on the mound in the first inning.

“I had a great fastball tonight, and I think I was overthrowing just a little bit and missing my spot,’’ Byrd said. “[Fletcher] was a little bit tight in the first inning, but I’m all over the place. Then I throw a ball on the corner, and you’re not going to get the call when you’re pitching like that. It was a little frustrating. Just couldn’t get that out. Couldn’t get that last out in the first. Couldn’t recover from that.’’

As manager Terry Francona said, “After that he was really good, better than we’ve seen in any of his starts.’’

After those two walks in the first, pitching coach John Farrell joined Byrd for a conference. It didn’t help. After Alberto Callaspo singled to right, scoring another run, Byrd got the first two outs, although another run came in on a groundout. However the veteran was on the brink of getting out of the inning with the Sox down by just three. But Alex Gordon dropped a single into left field, scoring two more runs.

“The first inning wasn’t pretty, but I’ll tell you what, after that he pitched great,’’ Francona said. “We had given up too much to win the game, but he kept our bullpen intact. I actually thought he threw the ball very well. Five in the first, that’s a big hole to dig out of, especially with Greinke pitching. But I thought his command of his stuff, everything for about six innings was really, really good.’’

Since Junichi Tazawa had just been placed on the 60-day disabled list, and Michael Bowden had pitched the night before, the Sox didn’t have anyone to go to for a significant amount of innings. Byrd, though, incredibly managed to last longer than Greinke.

Though he can hardly match Greinke’s ERA, which dropped to 2.08 after he threw just 91 pitches over his six innings, Byrd gave his team a chance against the Kansas City bullpen. But the Sox scored just one run, in the eighth, when two walks and a double steal set up an RBI groundout by Victor Martinez.

The Sox had just two hits total, Pedroia’s double in the first and Martinez’s streak-extending single (he’s hit in 21 straight) in the sixth. It wasn’t enough, not with what Byrd had allowed.

“I don’t scoreboard-watch or radar gun-watch, but every now and then I peek up there,’’ Byrd said. “Hit 90 miles an hour in the sixth, sliders were 81 to 83. I’m on top of my game. It just did not work for me in the first.

“I do not walk four guys. I don’t know the last time I did that [Sept. 17, 2006]. I was just overthrowing a little bit, probably too excited that I had good stuff, and it caused me to just miss a little bit.’’

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