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Byrd cites health as HGH defense

Byrd cites health as HGH defense

BOSTON -- Paul Byrd has been a feel-good story for the Indians in this 2007 postseason.

But on Sunday morning, on the verge of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, a story of a much different nature emerged on Byrd -- one that threatened to distract an Indians ballclub about to play its biggest game of the season.

According to a report in The San Francisco Chronicle, Byrd bought nearly $25,000 worth of human growth hormone and syringes from the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center between August 2002 and January 2005. Byrd was a pitcher for the Royals, Braves and Angels during that time span. He signed with the Indians in the winter before the 2006 season.

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Byrd, who is 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA in two October starts, including the Game 4 AL Division Series clincher at Yankee Stadium, met with his teammates in the visitors' clubhouse at Fenway Park before Sunday night's game to address the report.

Byrd, available out of the bullpen for Game 7, also spoke before a horde of reporters, stressing that he never took any drug that wasn't prescribed to him.

"I have a reputation, I speak at different places, I speak to kids, I speak to churches," Byrd said. "I do not want the fans in Cleveland -- I do not want honest, caring people -- to think that I cheated. Because I didn't. That is very important to me. I do understand there are going to be people around who, no matter what you say, are going to take a negative viewpoint. But I say with complete confidence that I have never taken anything apart from a prescription."

Earlier in the day, Byrd told FOXSports.com that three doctors have diagnosed him as suffering from a deficiency of adult-growth hormone. He also claimed to have been diagnosed with a tumor on his pituitary gland at the base of his brain in Spring Training of this year.

Byrd told FOXSports that he no longer uses HGH. In his session with reporters, though, he was noncommittal when asked if he has stopped taking the drugs.

"That's a private matter right now with me," he said. "I do still have a pituitary issue. I don't know exactly what that means. I'm still learning about that. I will have to get tested for a while now. And that changes a lot of things for me. I don't know what the future holds for me."

Byrd said he has been working with the league on this issue, but MLB spokesman Patrick Courtney said that MLB and the Commissioner's Office were unaware that Byrd was using HGH. The league issued a statement that the allegations involving Byrd will be investigated in the coming days.

"I don't know of a player who has been granted an exemption for HGH," Courtney said.

Byrd confirmed the Chronicle report's claim that he purchased the HGH and syringes on a credit card in his name and had the products delivered to Major League clubhouses.

"Everything has been done out in the open," Byrd said. "I have actually had shipments come to clubhouses and have actually, for a period of time, had things stored in a refrigerator in clubhouses. I feel like that makes things very legitimate on my end."

Yet Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, who claims to do due diligence on the medical and personal histories of all players he acquires, said he did not know about Byrd's HGH use before Friday, when the Chronicle approached the pitcher for a comment on the forthcoming story.

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Shapiro, who will decide after the conclusion of the season whether to pick up Byrd's $8 million option for 2008 or not, said he was surprised by the report.

"I have not had extensive conversations with Major League Baseball on an official level," Shapiro said. "I've talked to Paul, and that's about the extent of the information I have. Paul told me just what was written. I don't have enough information to give a complete judgment. A lot of people are involved. Major League Baseball has talked to the union. We'll play the role we're asked to play."

Growth hormone is an injectable prescription drug with muscle-building properties. According to the Chronicle report, the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center, located in Florida, is one of several clinics and pharmacies being targeted by the Albany, N.Y., district attorney for the alleged illegal sales of drugs, including steroids and growth hormone.

"If that pharmacy did something wrong, I never knew about it," Byrd said. "I never received anything in the mail that was not prescribed to me by a doctor."

Byrd joins a list of big leaguers accused of buying HGH that also includes Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., Blue Jays third baseman Troy Glaus, Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel and Rangers infielder Jerry Hairston Jr., among others.

Baseball banned the use of growth hormone on Jan. 13, 2005. The Chronicle report states that Byrd made his final purchase fro the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center one week earlier. His purchases from the clinic totaled $24,850, the report said.

Byrd admitted that he considered taking doses of HGH larger than what was prescribed for him by a doctor. He said he addresses the issue in his manuscript, "The Free Byrd Project," which he expects to be released as a book next spring.

"I did have the temptation to take more of it than what was prescribed so that my fastball would reach into the 90s on a consistent basis," Byrd said. "I never did succumb to those temptations. I don't know that there's a way to prove that to people, other than to say that you can ask different scouts and see if there was ever a period of time where I showed an increase in strength. I didn't. I have never done anything to disrespect the game."

With Game 7 on the horizon, Indians manager Eric Wedge did not want to discuss the details of Byrd's situation.

"I've got to have my focus and we have to have our focus on this game tonight," Wedge said. "It's a one-game season right now. All our time, effort and energy has to be on this game."

Third baseman Casey Blake and first baseman Ryan Garko, two of the more accessible players in the clubhouse, both refused to comment on the Byrd situation or the pitcher's pregame meeting with the team.

"They talked, and I know they spent some time together," Wedge said. "Our guys have always done a real good job of working hard to stay in the mind-set they need to stay in to be the best they can be. That's collective and individual."

Byrd, who is 97-81 with a 4.35 ERA over the course of a 13-year career in which he's played for seven teams, said he plans to discuss the issue further with reporters in the next few days.

On Sunday, though, he wanted to keep the focus on Game 7, even as this bombshell proved to be the center of attention beforehand.

"My medical history should not be the focus of today," Byrd said. "This is Game 7, and we are trying to get to a World Series. I'm a little disappointed with the timing of this. This story could have been brought out a few days ago."

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

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