ATLANTA (AP)—Paul Byrd waited a long time between major league starts.
Determined to make the most of his comeback from Tommy John surgery, Byrd pitched seven shutout innings in his first start since 2002 to lead the Atlanta Braves past the Cleveland Indians 4-0 Saturday night.
“It feels great to be part of the team instead of sitting there with your arm in an ice bucket,” Byrd said.
Byrd enjoyed some strong defensive support, including a key sixth-inning catch by J.D. Drew in center field. Drew, subbing for the injured Andruw Jones, caught up with a drive hit by pinch-hitter Raul Gonzalez to lead off the inning. A sprinting Drew, running toward right field, caught the ball on the warning track.
“I told the guys I’m not going to strike everybody out but I’m going to work fast and give them an opportunity to get on SportsCenter,” Byrd said.
Byrd was making his first major league start since Sept. 25, 2002, for Kansas City against the Chicago White Sox. His last win came Sept. 19, 2002. He had surgery on July 1, 2003, and was activated from the disabled list earlier Saturday.
“He pitched well, especially for one who hadn’t pitched in a long time,” Indians catcher Tim Laker said.
Byrd said he returned with a little more velocity on his fastball, but is especially encouraged with the better movement on his pitches.
“That’s why I think I will be as good or better,” he said.
“But then the next couple of pitches were unbelievable and he was back again,” Braves catcher Eddie Perez said.
Byrd (1-0) received an ovation from the Turner Field crowd of 41,987 and handshakes from his teammates when he walked off the field after the seventh inning. He threw 91 pitches—64 for strikes.
“It’s a big win,” Drew said. “I think everybody is excited to see Byrd throw so well.”
Antonio Alfonseca gave up two hits with two outs in the eighth inning. John Smoltz relieved and got Travis Hafner to ground out with runners on first and second. Smoltz then pitched a perfect ninth for his 11th save.
The Braves had lost three straight and seven of 10 to fall four games under .500 this late in the season for the first time since 1990.
“Any type of performance would have picked us up tonight,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
Cleveland starter Jake Westbrook’s ERA rose from an AL-leading 2.70 to 2.98 as he gave up eight hits and four runs in five innings. He gave up just three earned runs in his first three starts this month.
Westbrook (6-3) allowed a two-run homer to Marrero in the second inning and another two-run shot to Franco in the third, the first time in 13 outing this season he gave up two home runs in a game.
Cleveland manager Eric Wedge earned his first ejection of the season in the fifth inning. He was tossed by second base umpire Chris Guccione after Guccione called Coco Crisp out on a stolen base attempt. TV replays indicated Crisp slid under the tag by shortstop Rafael Furcal on the throw from catcher Eddie Perez.
“I was very upset with the call,” Wedge said. “I wouldn’t have gone out
Byrd pitched for the Braves in 1997-98, posting a combined record of 4-4. His last start for the Braves was Sept. 24, 1997, when he lost 5-1 at Philadelphia. … Lawton stretched his hitting streak to 16 games with a third-inning single, the first of his three hits. The streak matches his career best. … Drew made his first start of the season in center field when Andruw Jones was held out with a knee injury. Drew appeared in 26 games in center field for St. Louis in 2003, including 22 starts. … Cleveland right fielder Jody Gerut made a leaping catch of a drive hit by Furcal in the seventhinning.