Tribe falls, but Blake keeps going

Blake extends streak, but Indians fall

CLEVELAND -- Paul Byrd lives right down the street from John Smoltz in Alpharetta, Ga. They play catch together in the offseason. They toss the football around. They meet up and bowl a few frames now and then.

So when Byrd testifies to the athleticism of the 40-year-old Smoltz, it's legit praise.

"He's the type of guy that if you're going bowling, he runs by and picks up his personal bowling ball and shoes and bowls a 250," Byrd said of Smoltz. "If you shoot around the basketball, he's hitting threes from any part of the court. He's a great athlete and a real good competitor."

And when the two competed Saturday afternoon at Jacobs Field, Smoltz and the Braves won out, handing the Indians a 6-2 loss in front of 35,153 fans.

Byrd's buddy Smoltz outdueled him, holding the Indians to a pair of runs on seven hits, with no walks and seven strikeouts over six innings.

"He was pretty good," Indians manager Eric Wedge said of Smoltz. "He did a good job staying out of the middle of the plate, and moving it left and right on the plate and occasionally up and down."

This was only the second start of the month for Smoltz because of a twinge in his shoulder.

Well, that's the report, anyway. Byrd, jokingly, wasn't buying it.

"Either the Atlanta reporters or the AP reporters or you guys don't know anything," Byrd told reporters with a laugh. "You guys said he has a sore shoulder, and he was throwing 95 mph with an 85 mph slider. I would love for my shoulder to feel bad and to take that out to the mound."

For the third start in a row, Byrd didn't throw particularly well. He gave up 10 hits for the third time in as many outings and suffered his second straight loss.

All season, Byrd has showcased his ability to pound the strike zone. But in these last three starts, it's a trait that's worked against him. Opposing hitters have pounded him right back, causing him to give up 16 earned runs over his last 15 innings of work.

"The last start, I made bad pitches against Seattle. I just didn't have it," Byrd said. "Today, I thought I threw the ball well and just didn't have anything to show for it. I couldn't get anything to go my way and couldn't get the ball to go to anybody. They fought off good pitches."

The Braves did their damage against Byrd in the second and fifth innings. After Scott Thurman led off the second with a double and Yunel Escobar put runners on the corners with a single, the Braves got on the board with Kelly Johnson's RBI single and Willie Harris' RBI groundout.

Though Smoltz was on top of his game, the Indians did manage to tie it up against him with a two-run third. With two runners in scoring position, Grady Sizemore lofted a single to right to bring in one run, and David Dellucci grounded into a double play that brought in another.

That was it for the Tribe's offense on this day, though. They didn't get another runner past first base.

Casey Blake also singled to left in the third inning to extend his hitting streak to 25 games. Blake's streak is currently the longest one in the Majors and the best by an Indian since Matt Williams' 24-gamer in 1997.

So was the offense flat or was Smoltz -- and the three relievers who followed him -- just that sharp? After all, the Tribe bats have been somewhat lethargic the past week or so.

"Everybody says it's flat when you don't hit," Wedge said. "When you create offense and hit, it creates energy. It goes hand-in-hand. Our guys are working hard to find it, and we'll figure it out."

They didn't figure it out on this day. Not against Smoltz, and not against relievers Tyler Yates, Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan, who held the Indians scoreless and hitless over the last three innings.

Byrd, likewise, couldn't figure out how to stop the pesky Braves offense, which strung together a three-run fifth inning that was ignited by four consecutive hits. Johnson tripled, Harris singled, Edgar Renteria doubled and Chipper Jones singled.

"They pecked away at [Byrd]," Wedge said.

But neither Wedge nor Byrd seemed particularly concerned with Byrd's rough outing, which saw him give up five runs in five innings of work.

Smoltz was the story.

"Not only does he have great stuff," Byrd said of Smoltz, "he has flawless mechanics, and he pitches. He threw some sidearm sliders today that were just unhittable, and I know the reason he's doing that is because his shoulder is bothering him. He's dropping down because of his shoulder. He's just on another level with his competitiveness."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.