"He does a good job mixing his pitches and just trying to throw your timing," rookie Jeff Larish said. "I think it showed tonight."
Larish and Brandon Inge hit solo homers off Byrd to keep the Tigers close, one of them Larish's first Major League homer, but that was the extent of the Tigers' scoring. Byrd scattered four hits over seven innings without a walk, and needed just 80 pitches to do it -- 55 of them strikes. It was a classic Byrd outing, and it helped continue the Tigers' unexpected struggles that have lasted for much of the season.
The homers helped Detroit avoid adding to its Major League-leading shutout total of nine, but the Tigers' low-scoring games have been an equal. According to Bill James Online, Friday was their 24th game scoring two runs or less, topping the big leagues. Not surprisingly, they're winless in those games.
Eight of those games have come in Justin Verlander's starts, accounting for all but one of his American League-leading nine defeats.
"Obviously, we really haven't swung the bats," manager Jim Leyland said. "I'm seeing it, but I'm not necessarily believing it. That's the way it is. You just have to keep grinding and keep grinding, and hopefully one day it starts and doesn't start. It's almost like a mystery to me, to be honest with you, that we really haven't scored more runs or hit the ball with more consistency than we have.
"I'm totally shocked that we haven't done better offensively, and that's probably putting it mildly."
Byrd (3-5) retired 10 straight Tigers in between Carlos Guillen's first-inning single and Miguel Cabrera's double leading off the sixth. Making things tougher, his outs were efficient; he reached just one three-ball count in his seven innings, and Magglio Ordonez lined the full-count delivery to second base to end the opening inning.
"It's almost like a mystery to me, to be honest with you, that we really haven't scored more runs or hit the ball with more consistency than we have."
-- Jim Leyland
Both home runs were on offspeed pitches left up in the zone. Inge lofted an 0-1 pitch deep to left leading off the bottom of the sixth for his fifth home run of the year. Byrd retired the side in order from there, then induced popouts from Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera to start the seventh before leaving a pitch up to Larish.
That's when Larish finally had a chance to flash the power that put him among the International League's best hitters at Triple-A Toledo. His drive to the depths of the gap in right-center cleared the out-of-town scoreboard and landed in the seats above.
"I believe it was a changeup, [he] just left it up in the zone," Larish said. "Obviously, results are a big part of this game, so when you have something like that to take the pressure off a little bit, it helps to do that. But it helps to do that anytime."
In this case, it helped bring the Tigers within striking distance, though Ryan Garko's homer off Denny Bautista leading off the eighth bumped the deficit back to two. Todd Jones' scoreless ninth kept it there, allowing Ordonez and Cabrera to step to the plate as the potential tying run following Carlos Guillen's one-out single.
Closer Joe Borowski induced Ordonez into a first-pitch flyout to right, then put Cabrera in an 0-2 count before sending him down swinging at a cutter to end the game.
Verlander (2-9) traded zeroes with Byrd for the first few innings, striking out five of the first 11 hitters he faced, before the Indians made him labor through the fourth. Five straight Indians reached base safely, including walks to Garko and David Dellucci to load the bases for Blake.
Verlander put Blake in an 0-2 hole but just missed the outside corner on his next pitch. Blake lined the next offering to left before Gutierrez did the same.
"He's certainly pitched some good ballgames this year," Leyland said. "He probably hasn't been himself on a consistent basis, but he's certainly pitched some very, very good ballgames. Tonight, I thought he was good for the most part. He was in and out a little bit at times."
When he's been in, the Tigers' offense has generally been out. Verlander has quality starts in four of his last five starts, but has a win, two losses and a no-decision to show for it.