Busy Byrd soars into All-Star lore
Cubs lone rep walks, scores, makes defensive play of night
ANAHEIM -- Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd had not played in right field all season, but there he was in the ninth inning, with the 81st All-Star Game on the line. In perfect position to make a bit of history.
Byrd recorded the first outfield forceout in an All-Star Game in 53 years, a ninth-inning gem that helped close the National League's 3-1 win on Tuesday at Angel Stadium and snapped an American League winning streak that dated back to 1997.The play was part of a busy night for the Cubs' lone All-Star representative. Byrd also worked a walk in the seventh inning that loaded the bases for MVP Brian McCann's go-ahead, three-run double. Byrd raced home, slid in safely and popped up with a pump of his fist. "We stopped the streak," Byrd beamed in a crowded NL clubhouse. "Bringing homefield advantage back to the National League, that's a plus." That advantage was in the balance in the bottom of the ninth inning, when Red Sox slugger David Ortiz singled off Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton to bring the potential tying run to the plate. Broxton struck out Adrian Beltre to bring up another first-time All-Star, catcher John Buck of the Blue Jays, who poked a fly ball toward Byrd in right field. Byrd broke in, played the ball on a bounce and then fired to shortstop Rafael Furcal before Ortiz could get to second base. The only other outfield force play in an All-Star Game came in 1957, when Frank Robinson was forced at second base on Eddie Mathews fielder's choice grounder to right fielder Al Kaline. "Wrong place. Wrong time. And the wrong guy, too," Ortiz said. "I know, man. I saw where he was playing, but everybody knows that Marlon Byrd is a guy that has great speed in the outfield. I saw him coming in, I thought he was going to catch it. ... I just got in between, and it bounced in front of him and he made a good throw to second base." "Where that ball landed, where it was at, that's a tough play," Buck said. "I think it would've been bang-bang with anybody. Maybe with a little more speed ... I don't know. I think that's second-guessing too much.
"That was such a bloop, it looked like he was going to catch it. That's second-guessing a little too much, I think. I don't know, maybe [Ortiz's] legs were tired [after winning Monday's Home Run Derby]."In the end, it was just a great play for a guy who has made all of six appearances in right field in the past three seasons. "Instinct," Byrd said. "When you're in center field, you can't make that play," he added. "But when you're on the corners, you've got a play. You have to know how to read the ball, get a great hop when it comes up, make the throw. I got all of those elements, and we got the out." Did he think Ortiz would give him a hard time about it when their paths next cross? "Not at all. He's seen me play the outfield," Byrd said. "He knows I do as good of a job as I can out there." "Marlon made a good throw to second and it was a great play," said NL second baseman Brandon Phillips, of the Reds. "It was the only play he had. If that ball gets by him, it would have been second and third with one out. I'm happy for Marlon. He deserves it. I'm proud of him." Byrd entered the game as the center fielder in the fifth inning and moved to right in the bottom of the seventh after helping the NL take the lead. He batted with runners at first and third base and two outs in the top of the seventh inning and fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches from White Sox reliever Matt Thornton. Byrd was simply in survival mode. "Oh my God, he's tough," Byrd said. "He's throwing 97 [mph] with cut. He gets it in on you, knows how to spot it. I was trying to find a way to get on, any way." Mission accomplished. Thornton's eighth pitch of the showdown was high, and Byrd trotted to first base. Two pitches later he was on the move, after McCann pulled a double into the right-field corner. "I didn't see it land," Byrd said. "I saw it come off his bat and started running like I stole something. That was it. I was trying to get home any way that I could." He did, sending the NL on the way to a long-awaited win. Even before his late-inning activity, Byrd had authored one of the 81st All-Star Game's most compelling stories. He had a solid rookie season in 2003, but then bounced between the big leagues and the Minors for the Phillies over the next three years. He was released by the Nationals in early 2007, but revived his career in Texas. Three years later, Byrd was the Cubs' lone All-Star. He won that honor by hitting .317 in the first half with nine home runs and 40 RBIs. Byrd is also tied for the NL lead with 27 doubles. At 32, he is the third-oldest of the first-time All-Stars. NL teammate Arthur Rhodes of the Reds is 40, and Thornton is 33. Byrd is about two months older than Orioles infielder Ty Wigginton. "It usually doesn't happen," he said of his inclusion in the Midsummer Classic. "Usually, your All-Stars are going to be your superstars. Even when a guy has a big first half, he doesn't always get recognized. To be voted in, it's a huge honor. The guys in this league have really watched what I've done." That's why Byrd savored the week's experience. "It's very humbling," he said. "You always believe as a player that you can play. You have to have that confidence and that swagger. But at the same time, I'm a couple [lockers] down from Albert Pujols. I'm looking over at Chris Carpenter, Roy Halladay and then a guy who's 15-1, Ubaldo Jimenez. You realize that you're among the greats in the game."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.