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Long day for Braves' bullpen10/09/2004 7:00 PM ET
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- For three straight games, Braves right-hander Paul Byrd was standing by, waiting to go long relief, if needed.
His call came earlier than anybody could have expected on Saturday afternoon against the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Just four pitches into the Astros' half of the first inning, Atlanta starter John Thomson aggravated his left oblique strain and was done for the game.
Summoned quickly, Byrd entered and immediately worked out of trouble in the first inning. But on a day the Astros rolled to an 8-5 victory, Byrd suffered the loss that put Atlanta down 2-1 in the best-of-five National League Division Series.
Ailments keep piling up for the battered Braves rotation. Jaret Wright, the Game 1 starter, is nursing two tender legs that were struck in successive starts by comeback liners. Mike Hampton, who worked Game 2, has torn cartilage in his left knee, plus stiffness in his left elbow. And Thomson had a pre-existing oblique problem that first arose on Oct. 2 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
"I've been playing catch before the game, getting ready," Byrd said. "No one knew how Jaret's foot was going to be. No one knew how Mike's knee was going to be. Today, with Thomson's side, I've been on call and ready to go the last three days."
Normally the Braves' fifth starter, Byrd's role in the first round of the playoffs is long relief because manager Bobby Cox is going with a four-man rotation.
In the regular season, Byrd made 19 starts and was 8-7 with a 3.94 ERA.
"We had Byrdie ready, but we thought we'd get six innings out of Thomson," Cox said. "We really felt that way."
The injury to Thomson created a long day for the Atlanta bullpen. In all, six relievers were used to cover 7 2/3 innings.
Byrd gave up four runs on seven hits, including a two-run homer to Carlos Beltran. He walked three and struck out three while throwing 81 pitches. The right-hander even helped himself with an RBI single that tied the game a 2 in the fourth inning.
"It was a lot of fun to do that," Byrd said. "The bottom line is, we scored five runs. That should be enough. Five runs have got to be enough in the postseason. Good pitching shuts down good hitting. I shoulder this one today. Now I have to get ready to go on, and get ready the next two days.
"I wasn't surprised I was able to come in. I just wasn't able to make some pitches."
Catcher Johnny Estrada praised Byrd's effort.
"He kept us in the game," Estrada said. "We have to get something going early in the games and not wait until late to put some runs on the board."
Atlanta's bullpen has been taxed, but Byrd says skeptics shouldn't count out the Braves out.
The odds seem to be against Atlanta in Sunday's Game 4, with Houston riding a 19-game home win streak and Roger Clemens on the mound against Russ Ortiz.
"With Clemens going out there, it looks a little stacked against us," Byrd said. "That's what it's been with this team the whole year. We were picked third in our division. Why stop now? We're the underdogs in the postseason as well.
"We were counted out from Day 1. When Houston made it, they snuck in at the end, but we were immediate underdogs. That's been the thing about this team the whole year. Right now, things look down, but this team has found a way to do it. We turned it around in the regular season. Now we have to turn around in the postseason. I don't feel like the Astros are better than us. I feel like it's who's hot at the right time, and we have to get hot quick."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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