The Cleveland Indians’ stellar road record was a big reason why they shared the best record in the American League in 2007, and they were particularly good as the season wound down.
They’d love to pick up right where they left off.
Cleveland will open its first road trip of 2008 on Friday against the Oakland Athletics at McAfee Coliseum, a park where they haven’t enjoyed much success in recent years.
The Indians are 6-16 in Oakland since July 31, 2002, and haven’t won back-to-back games in that span.
Cleveland (2-1) made it to the ALCS last season before falling 4-3 to Boston, but at one point it held a 3-1 series lead thanks to the Game 4 performance of Paul Byrd (15-8, 4.59 ERA), who will start the series opener.
Byrd won both of his starts in the postseason last year, posting a 3.60 ERA. One of those, in the AL Division Series against the New York Yankees, came on the road, where Byrd excelled in 2007. He was 7-4 with a 3.51 ERA away from Progressive Field.
Then, under the backdrop of his admitted use of human growth hormone - Byrd said he took HGH for a medical condition - the Indians picked up a $7.5 million option for the 37-year-old.
“Looking at his on-field contributions and the teammate he’s been in our clubhouse … the last two years, it was a decision we were very comfortable with,” Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said.
Byrd is 3-2 with a 4.10 ERA in his last six starts against Oakland.
The A’s Bobby Crosby, who is hitting .286 through four games, is a .333 career hitter against Byrd in 15 at-bats.
Cleveland scored 6.08 runs on average when Byrd started in 2007 - eighth-most in the AL - and the Indians’ offense had no problems scoring runs in their first two games this season.
They scored 17 - thanks to four RBI each from Franklin Gutierrez and Grady Sizemore - in a pair of wins over the White Sox to open 2008, but mustered just two hits on Thursday in a 2-1 loss to close that series.
“We didn’t have many opportunities and the few chances we had, we didn’t take advantage of them,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said.
One encouraging sign despite the loss was Victor Martinez’s pinch-hit appearance. Martinez was injured in the season opener, but Wedge believes he’ll be able to return to his starting duties in the next few days.
Oakland (1-3) split two games in Japan with the Red Sox to open the 2008 season, but was only able to muster two runs when the series continued stateside in the Bay Area. The A’s were shut out on just four hits on Wednesday and are hitting .183 through four games, led by Kurt Suzuki’s .357 (5-for-14).
Justin Duchscherer (3-3, 4.96) will get the start - his first since Sept. 20, 2003 - for Oakland. Duchscherer was an All-Star reliever for the A’s in 2005 and was excellent again in 2006, but his ERA went up more than two runs last season.
He’s anxious to get out of the bullpen and take the ball as a starter.
“I don’t know that excited is a strong enough word,” Duchscherer told the team’s official Web site. “It was what I’ve wanted my whole career.”
Duchscherer is 0-2 with a 6.48 ERA in nine relief appearances against the Indians.