Byrd wastes little savoring first foray into playoffs
Veteran homers in initial postseason at-bat, sets tone for advancing Pirates
PITTSBURGH -- For Marlon Byrd, it was well worth the wait.
The veteran outfielder had played in 1,250 regular-season Major League games without a playoff appearance. Byrd made his postseason debut Tuesday night one to remember.
Byrd put the Pirates on the board in the National League Wild Card Game, breaking a 0-0 tie in the bottom of the second when he led off the inning with a home run to left. The outfielder reached base on a scorcher to shortstop in the third that was ruled an error, then drove in a second run, the Bucs' fifth of the game, with a fielder's choice in the bottom of the fourth.
"It was great," Byrd said about the solo shot in his first playoff at-bat. "Getting on the board first, keeping our fans in the game all game long, we needed that. We wanted to strike first, try to get on the board first, then let [starting pitcher Francisco] Liriano go to work. That's exactly what we did."
Byrd was seventh among active players on the list for most games played with no postseason appearances. It's a leaderboard he was more than happy not to climb any further. But after parts of a dozen years in the big leagues, more than 4,800 at-bats and wearing his seventh Major League uniform, it's easy to understand that perhaps Byrd was a little more amped up than most.
"It was an unbelievable feeling," Byrd said. "You had the butterflies, you had the jitters, you had that anxiety before the game starts. Then you get that first at-bat and you try to slow the game down. That really calmed me down, getting that first one out of the way."
In that first one, Byrd got a Johnny Cueto changeup that got too much of the plate on the fourth pitch of the at-bat, and he deposited it into the left-field seats. That should come as no surprise considering Byrd had gone 7-for-12 in his career against Cueto entering the game, with a homer, a double and three RBIs in that span.
"Regardless of how you do against him, he's always a different pitcher," Byrd said about the Reds right-hander. "He's turning, he has deception. It's one of those things, you see a guy good, and tonight I put a good swing on it."
Byrd's other swings weren't too shabby, either, though he didn't get credit for any other hits. He hit an absolute bullet at Zack Cozart in the third that ate the Reds shortstop up, and could have easily been ruled as Byrd's second hit in as many career postseason at-bats. Regardless of the scoring, it allowed Andrew McCutchen to streak to third, and he eventually came around to score.
Then Byrd got an RBI in the fourth, when batting with the bases loaded against reliever J.J. Hoover, he hit a bouncer to Brandon Phillips. The typically sure-handed second baseman didn't field it cleanly, ending any chance at a double play. Neil Walker came home to score to make it 5-1.
"Marlon Byrd proved a fantastic addition," Reds first baseman Joey Votto said. "Kudos to the front office for coming up with that trade, because he beat us up pretty good."
If it weren't for that trade, which brought Byrd to the Pirates from the Mets in late August, the 36-year-old outfielder wouldn't have had the chance to go 6-for-8 with four RBIs last weekend against Votto's Reds to clinch home field for the NL Wild Card Game on Tuesday. And Byrd would have had to wait another season for a crack at playing into October. That's certainly not something lost on the veteran, who posted a .318/.357/.486 line in his 30 games with the Bucs down the stretch.
"I'm full of gratitude," Byrd said. "I thank them so much for everything they did. They believed in me, they gave me a chance. And not just that. They put me in a great position, letting me come over here and experiencing the playoffs. Everything they did for me, I will never forget it."