After blanking the Rangers on one hit for four innings, Byrd did get ferociously wild. Well, for him.
The veteran right-hander entered Sunday having walked eight batters all season, three of those intentionally. So imagine Byrd's surprise when he walked the first three batters of the fifth inning, matching his walk total for the entire month of April.
"I don't want this to sound like an excuse, but I struggled gripping the ball all night," Byrd said. "I struggled with the mound a little bit. I just could not figure it out for a little while."
Thankfully, Byrd already had been staked to a 5-0 lead before encountering his lapse of control. A two-run single by Josh Barfield in the fourth, an RBI single by Victor Martinez in the fifth and Jason Michaels' two-run single in the fifth made an early loser of Rangers right-hander Robinson Tejeda (5-9).
But Byrd already had lost control once, knocking Rangers catcher Gerald Laird out of the game with a fastball off the left hand in the second inning. After inexplicably walking replacement catcher Adam Melhuse, outfielder Brad Wilkerson and infielder Ramon Vazquez to start the Texas fifth, Byrd couldn't help wondering if the Rangers Ballpark was about to bite him once more.
Before Sunday, Byrd had seen the Rangers bat .366 against him here, banging out 34 hits in 20 innings. Having allowed just one hit in the first four innings Sunday, Byrd couldn't help but fear what was to come.
But he stared down Texas third baseman Travis Metcalf with the bases loaded and froze the rookie with a changeup that plate umpire Randy Marsh rang up for a called strikeout. With one out, at least Byrd could breathe again.
Then Byrd fooled Kenny Lofton, jamming him with a fastball. Lofton tried to check his swing but instead sent a tapper down the third-base line. Casey Blake scooped it easily, stepped on the bag and fired to first to complete an inning-ending double play.
"I really have no idea how I got out of that," Byrd laughed. "I went walking off the field, scratching my head, wondering if I'd have Steve Blass Syndrome the rest of my life. I didn't know what was going on."
Indians manager Eric Wedge praised Byrd's fortitude in the face of such unusual circumstances.
"Paul did a fantastic job," he said. "That one inning, he kind of lost it a little bit. But he did a good job getting through it. And for him to get through it on his own was huge. That would have really thinned us out if we had to go to the bullpen there."
Cleveland took a 6-0 lead in the top of the sixth when Barfield singled, alertly dashed from first to third on an infield groundout, and scored on a wild pitch by Rangers reliever Willie Eyre.
Wedge, hoping to keep his bullpen as fresh as possible for the Boston series that starts Monday night at Jacobs Field, sent Byrd back out for the bottom of the sixth and saw him retire the first two hitters. Then came a single by Marlon Byrd, and Frank Catalanotto ended the shutout with a run-scoring double on Paul Byrd's 99th and final pitch. Wedge could wait no longer and summoned left-hander Rafael Perez.
Perez didn't do Paul Byrd's ERA any favors when he let the inherited runner score by giving up a double to Melhuse. Wilkerson singled home another run, but that three-run sixth only halved the Rangers' deficit at 6-3.
That was as close at Texas would get. Perez, Rafael Betancourt and Jensen Lewis held the Rangers scoreless on two hits over the final three innings, while the Indians scored twice after loading the bases with none out in the eighth. Blake singled home one run and Martinez brought in another with a sacrifice fly for his team-leading 77th RBI, giving the Indians an 8-3 lead.
By winning three times in the four-game series, the Indians moved back within one game of first-place Detroit in the American League Central. But there is no time to rest, despite the long, late overnight flight home.
The Indians open a four-game series Monday at Jacobs Field against the American League East-leading Red Sox, who would be Cleveland's Division Series opponent if the playoffs started today. This is a chance at a statement series, particularly because the teams will let their respective aces tangle on Tuesday (C.C. Sabathia vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka) and Wednesday (Fausto Carmona vs. Josh Beckett). Boston took two of three from the Indians at Fenway Park in late May.
"Four-game series are tough," Wedge said. "Winning three out of four like we did here isn't easy. All four games were really hard-fought."
And if the finale left Paul Byrd with mixed feelings, consider the assessment leveled by Marlon Byrd, the aforementioned outfielder of the last-place Rangers.
"It was more disappointing than frustrating," he said. "Looking at their team, and looking at our team, I though we were a better team. Going into this series, I thought we were going to win."