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Byrd tames Tigers' bats in opener

Byrd tames Tigers' bats in opener

CLEVELAND -- A starting pitcher's pregame warmup in the bullpen is no time for a brawl to break out.

But Paul Byrd was doing his part to egg one on Monday night.

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Bullpen catcher Dennis Malave was standing in the batter's box as Byrd warmed up for his start against the Tigers, and Byrd was giving no indication of the 7 2/3 innings of dominance he was about to display in a 5-0 victory at Progressive Field.

Byrd's first offering dived at Malave's ankles, forcing Malave to jump out of the way. Byrd's second pitch forced Malave to jump again and fall down. The third pitch hit Malave in the knee. And when Malave moved to the right-handed side of the plate, Byrd hit him square in the back.

"If he would have charged the mound," Byrd said, "he would have had good reason to."

And Byrd had good reason to ask Malave to leave the box. He was worried he'd hit Malave again.

"I was afraid to even throw a ball," Byrd recalled. "I finally told him, 'You need to get out of the way.'"

Malave wouldn't listen. He walked toward the mound, punched Byrd in the chest -- perhaps as retaliation -- and told Byrd to keep throwing inside, because that's the way he pitches and that's the way he'd need to pitch to the Tigers.

"I almost started crying," Byrd said. "It was like something out of 'Braveheart.' He was willing to take another bullet for me after I had already hit him twice."

All Byrd would hit from that point forward were the corners.

Making what could very well be his last start as a member of the Indians, depending on how Thursday's Trade Deadline shakes out, Byrd turned in a performance that might have proven his value to a contender.

In 7 2/3 innings, he allowed just four hits, walking three and striking out four. He only let three runners in scoring position all night.

Though Byrd has struggled often this season, he's turned in three strong outings against the Tigers. And in his career against Detroit, he is 10-2 with a 3.33 ERA.

"He's just been fantastic against us," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We just haven't found a way to figure him out. He can throw any pitch at any time -- a little on, a little off, breaking ball behind in the count, cut the ball, sink the ball, changeup. He's a pitcher."

He's also a pitcher entering the final two months of his contract with the Indians, who, obviously, are sellers this swapping season.

Though the Indians would be open to the possibility of trading Byrd, finding a taker hasn't been easy, given the numbers he's put up this year. But with three straight quality starts, Byrd might be pitching himself off the Tribe.

That possibility hasn't gone unnoticed by the man himself.

"I'm in a win-win situation," Byrd said. "I love it here in Cleveland, I love the people in the locker room and I love the fans. But if I get traded, I'm assuming it would be a team in contention that would want to pick me up. If Cleveland is in that position where they can and need to do something, I certainly understand that."

The Indians didn't have to do much on the offensive end to back up Byrd, but they nonetheless went above and beyond against Kenny Rogers. Jhonny Peralta beat out a potential double-play ball at first to allow Grady Sizemore to score from third in the first inning, and Peralta added another run with an RBI double in the third.

A three-run sixth, in which Kelly Shoppach hit a solo homer and Asdrubal Cabrera hit a two-run shot, broke the game open.

"The home runs were a separator for us," manager Eric Wedge said.

But the real separator was Byrd, who found confidence in a changeup that hasn't always been on his side this season and was afforded the rare luxury of pitching into the eighth inning.

"The way he was pitching, he didn't have to work particularly hard any one inning," Wedge said. "He kept it going and threw the ball well."

Wedge finally pulled Byrd with two on, two out and Magglio Ordonez coming to the plate in the eighth. Byrd walked off to a standing ovation, and in came Ed Mujica, who retired Ordonez on a fly ball to left.

"That was a big out," Wedge said. "If [Ordonez] runs into one, all of a sudden it's 5-3."

And if Malave doesn't punch Byrd in the chest and offer that little pregame pump-up talk, perhaps Byrd wouldn't have summoned the confidence to pitch inside.

"It was inspiring to me," Byrd said. "I established the inside part of the plate. I didn't want to pitch away and be fearful. That's a credit to Dennis Malave. He's the player of the game."

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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