A high pitch count and a tiring piece of baserunning in the sixth inning led to Byrd (7-3) being lifted in a game in which the Phillies held on to edge the San Francisco Giants, 7-6, last night in Veterans Stadium.
Byrd's line - only five hits and one earned run allowed - was as much as Phils manager Terry Francona could have asked for under the circumstances, but the 6-1, 185-pound righthander still lamented his lack of even a single whiff.
``I felt like I was somebody's uncle in a backyard Wiffle ball game, you know?'' Byrd said.
``I told Terry I could go another inning if he wanted me to, but he said I had [thrown] too many pitches. I didn't want to come out of the game, just because I knew our bullpen was hurting. It wasn't that I didn't trust our bullpen or anything like that. I just knew they were hurting. I wanted to give them all I could.''
In a perfect world, Byrd, with or without strikeouts, would have tacked on another complete game to the Phillies' National League-leading total of nine. Francona used seven pitchers in Tuesday's 12-inning, 6-5 loss to the Giants, and hoped to give his bullpen - particularly peaks-and-valleys closer Wayne Gomes - a bit of much-needed R & R.
But baseball being what it is, Francona's grand design went out the window when the Giants scored three runs in the eighth inning and turned what once seemed a seemingly safe 7-1 lead (7-3 when Byrd left) into a nail-biter.
First Mike Grace and Jim Poole had their problems shutting down the Giants, who weren't retired in the eighth until J.T. Snow's sinking liner was snared at knee level by rightfielder Bobby Abreu with two men on base. Both would have scored had the ball gotten past Abreu - who fell to the rain-slicked artificial surface after making the catch - and Byrd would have had a lot more to be unhappy about than the absence of a K.
Asked if his heart had jumped up into his throat when Snow's liner left his bat, Francona said, ``Yeah, it did. That ball was duck-hooking.''
Francona and the rest of his patchwork lineup - regulars Scott Rolen (attending his grandfather's funeral), Doug Glanville and Mike Lieberthal were replaced by Kevin Jordan at third base, Kevin Sefcik in centerfield and Gary Bennett behind the plate - had even more cause to feel a bit jittery when Gomes, the sometimes overly emotional reliever, gave up an infield single to Jeff Kent to open the ninth inning.
At another point in the season - like, say, the night before - such a development might have discombobulated the normally excitable Gomes. But closers, at least under this Phillies regime, are required to be icy cool in stressful situations, and Gomes didn't flinch, at least outwardly. Nor did he pump his fist or make a big to-do when the next batter, Armando Rios, grounded into a doubleplay. Gomes then nailed down his fifth save by getting Rich Aurilia on a called third strike.
``It's not the end of the world when you have a man on first base,'' Gomes reasoned. ``I have confidence in my sinker that I can get a ground ball. That's exactly what I thought about before I threw the pitch to Rios. I was like, `Gomesie, don't panic. Make a good pitch.' ''
Gomes - who has assumed most of the duties of closer, but without the title, when Jeff Brantley went out with season-ending shoulder surgery - has been on a roller-coaster ride these last three days. He pitched two shutout innings and earned a save Monday, striking out the side in the eighth, which elicited more fist-pumping than an Oscar De La Hoya's Greatest Hits video. Francona and other organizational sages promptly lectured him on the pitfalls of wearing your heart on your sleeve.
On Tuesday, Gomes surrendered what proved to be the Giants' winning run in the 12th inning, but he appeared to have a firmer grip on his emotions.
``I want to close, and I plan on closing,'' Gomes said. ``Hey, it's something you have to do. You can't go out there every day and plan to be a hero, jumping around.''
Someone pointed out a couple of successful closers - Al ``The Mad Hungarian'' Hrabosky and Mitch Williams - were never Cool Hand Lukes in save situations.
``There isn't one set approach, but obviously the one I've taken isn't very accepted here,'' Gomes said. ``I've gotten a lot of comments about it, especially in our organization. They're the bosses; I'm the employee. I want to do whatever it takes to make them happy.
``I just want to better myself. Maybe I should go out there and tone it down. I just think I'm an emotional person, and I let my emotions get away from me sometimes. Hey, I cried when I got my first big-league save.''
There probably were as many Phillies' mood swings as fans (another intimate gathering of 13,616 was in attendance) over the course of a game that might be described as schizophrenic. And doesn't Byrd lookalike Kelsey Grammer play a shrink on TV?
Byrd, the Phillies' best waiver-wire pickup of recent memory, got the better of the Giants' impressive young righthander, Russ Ortiz (6-4). San Francisco had won 16 of Ortiz's previous 23 starts, but Desi Relaford scored on a wild pitch in the third inning and the Phils added two more runs in the fourth on a homer by Abreu, who went 2-for-3 and raised his batting average to .351.
Brent Mayne's first home run of the season got the Giants back within 3-1 in the fifth, but the Phillies gave themselves some breathing room - every bit of which they needed, as it turned out - with three runs in the fifth and another in the sixth. That sixth-inning run - Byrd, who had led off with a single, scored on Sefcik's triple - had Francona's starting pitcher huffing and puffing as if he'd just completed the Boston Marathon.
``He pitched good. Byrd gave us what Byrd usually gives us,'' Francona said. ``I think running the bases might have tired him out a little bit, but he got us where we needed to get. I just didn't want to get into our bullpen a whole heck of a lot tonight.''
As it turned out, the three-run lead Byrd left with - the Giants scored two unearned runs in the seventh - proved just enough of a cushion.
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