MINNEAPOLIS — Cleveland’s “Byrd Man” put the hard-charging Minnesota Twins on ice Monday night, giving the Indians’ struggling offense a much needed breather.
Paul Byrd’s first shutout in more than two years and Travis Hafner’s homer helped the Indians earn a series split with a 4-0 victory over the Twins.
With his old-school, windmill windup, high socks and even higher leg kick, Byrd
(10-4) breezed through the Twins. He needed just 99 pitches to get his first shutout since July 1, 2005, at Kansas City, taking advantage of a Minnesota offense that may be starting to press with the AL Central race getting tighter.
“The hitters have been picking me up all year and it’s really nice to give them a day off,” Byrd said. “I’ve been waiting for that for a long time.”
Just two weeks ago, the Twins were 9½ games out of the division lead, but entered Monday night’s series finale with a chance to cut Cleveland’s lead to 3½.
But the heart of Minnesota’s lineup continued to come up empty, once again providing no support for starter Carlos Silva (9-12). Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter — hitters No. 4-6 in the order — were a combined 1-for-10 on Monday night and 3-for-31 in the series.
“There’s frustration,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Our pitchers are throwing the ball good, but they can’t do it by themselves. Our offense has to pick it up and get going or we’re going to have a lot of trouble here.”
Morneau’s last two at-bats of the game were weak popouts on the first pitch, the last with Joe Mauer on first and one out in the seventh. Hunter followed with a popout to second, drawing boos from a home crowd that rarely voices displeasure with its beloved Twins.
“I walked over to Casey (Blake) and Victor (Martinez) and said, ‘If you’re not right with Jesus, get right with Him, because He may be coming back. I just got Morneau out twice,’” Byrd cracked.
Actually, Morneau is stuck in an 0-for-17 slump and was hitless in the series.
“You see guys trying to hit that double or that homer because down in the lineup, there’s not a lot of power there,” said Hunter, referring to the Twins’ soft-hitting 7-8-9 batters.
The Twins have scored more than four runs in a game just once in the last 14 games, but some strong pitching performances allowed them to take two of the first three from the Indians, who aren’t exactly mimicking Murderer’s Row these days.
Cleveland entered the night hitting just .228 and averaging 3.4 runs per game in its previous 13, a 4-9 skid that helped the Twins make things a little interesting in the Central.
The Indians kept their half-game lead in the division over the Tigers, who beat Tampa Bay 6-4 Monday night.
“We may drive ourselves crazy checking the standings all the time,” Blake said. “But, can’t help it. We really can’t worry about what other teams do. We just need to put our head down and go.”
Hafner hit Silva’s first pitch of the seventh about as hard as possible, slamming the ball off the scoreboard in right field for a solo homer that gave Cleveland a 2-0 lead.
With Byrd, who allowed four hits, enjoying his usual success against the Twins, that was more than enough. The last time the crafty right-hander threw a complete game was Aug. 17 of last year — at the Metrodome.
The victory allowed Byrd to match last year’s win total, and now he’s eyeing his best season when he went 17-11 for the Kansas City Royals in 2002.
Silva tied a season high with six strikeouts and allowed six hits in seven innings, but the Twins have averaged just 4.19 runs of support in his starts, seventh lowest in the AL.
Silva criticized the offense during one tough stretch last season, but he’s not going there this year.
“No complaining, no anything,” Silva said. “I learned my lesson last year.”