Twins Territory spent the weekend slowly talking themselves back onto the postseason bandwagon, and I joined them. And then I watched fruitless inning follow fuitless inning, growing gloomier and gloomier, and was suddenly attacked by a very strange thought:
I think I would like Paul Byrd.
Oh, not today obviously. Today I hate him with the frigid fury of a half-mile deep glacier. I might even go as far as to say I loathe him, and I say "loathe" in an especially loathful way - it practically slithers out of my mouth. That's the reaction Byrd earned with his performance in one of the top five most critical games of the year.
But, really, you can't help but admire the guy in an 'everyman' kinda way. Just look at his career, would you? He mostly worked out of the bullpen his first several years in the majors, but had had one great half-year in his first full year stint as a starter. That earned him his only trip to the All-Star game, though nobody trusted him enough to let him pitch. Then he regressed. But he rejuvenated himself as a 30-year-old, regressed again last year, and has twirled his way to a 4.33 ERA this year.
And judging by last night, I'm choosing that last verb carefully. He hasn't "thrown" or "hurled", and even "pitched" doesn't quite describe it. Byrd twirls - changing speeds, inside-out, high-low, and nibbling corners. Watching him against your team is maddening, and I imagine that batting against him must lead to thoughts of senseless violence.
So last night, I tried to watch him from a more objective, appreciative point of view, and a sort of Zen tranquility eventually enveloped me. Granted, it was a seething Zen tranquility, and if maintained for any extended period of time, would lead to ulcers. To be honest, it was a pretty bitter tranquility. But I still preferred it to the acid-refluxing rage a few Denys Reyes walks inspired.
But (and I'm sure you'll agree) enough about my digestive system.
Byrd pitches exactly like you would want him to, and probably how he and his 87 MPH fastball need to. For instance, batters want to "pull" balls on the inside of the plate, and they need to swing earlier to do that. So what does Byrd throw them? Fastballs, of course, so they need to swing especially early.
Those inside pitches are also what tend to end up in the bleachers, since pulling a ball means it can go a lot further. So versus those batters with power, like Mauer or Morneau, the fastball was usually a ball, just inside the edge of the plate. But for those without power, like Alexi Casilla or Brian Busher, the ball was over the plate, leading to a long fly ball.
And on the outside half of the plate? Where batters train themselves to wait a little longer with their inside-out swings? Plenty of off-speed pitches, making them wait an eternity. And almost always with some movement, bending back over the plate, darting off of it, or diving itself into a ground ball. It was more like watching a ping-pong player spin a return than a dominant pitcher lead his team to a division lead.
That's a simplified version of what happened, of course. None of that explains exactly why the Twins have been hopeless against Byrd, while most other teams in the American League have enjoyed at least moderate success. The Twins have failed against the "professional and patient" type of pitcher again and again, which is one of the reasons their bats have been so lifeless in the postseason.
And today, it's one of the reasons that Twins Territory is likely having second thoughts about that bandwagon.