Postseason rookie Byrd making most of time with Pirates
By Bob Cohn
Published: Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 10:31 p.m.
If Marlon Byrd wasn't exactly living it up at this time a year ago, he was at least living fairly large while playing winter ball in Mexico for the Culiacan Tomateros.
“It was gorgeous,” he said. “Beautiful. They put me in a great hotel, one of the best in Mexico. A mall next door, a Starbuck's across the street. It was very nice.”
But Byrd prefers his current locale in right field for the Pirates, who play St. Louis in Game 3 of the NL Division Series Sunday at PNC Park. Each club has won a game.
Byrd, 36, came from the Mets with reserve catcher John Buck in late August to get his first taste of the playoffs after 12 big league seasons with seven teams.
“You go to a team every year, everyone starts 0-0 right after spring training, so you assume your team's gonna be there, you're gonna make that push,” he said. “The teams I was on, we didn't make that push.”
“When I came over here I knew they were good,” he said of the Pirates. “The confidence they had, watching them on TV. Great leadership, a veteran presence, the young guys getting better, the growing pains.
“They were ready to win. So when I got over here it was like, ‘All right, let's get ready for October.' ”
Byrd hit .318 with three homers and 17 RBI for the Pirates, helping solidify the lineup with first baseman Justin Morneau, who came in a waiver deal after the trade deadline. In his first postseason at-bat last Tuesday, his second-inning, solo homer off Johnny Cueto in the NL wild card game ignited the Pirates' 6-2 win over Cincinnati that sent them to the Division Series.
Byrd appeared to hit bottom last year when he hit .210 for the Cubs and Red Sox while testing positive for a banned substance. After serving a 50-game suspension, he was considered damaged goods. He went to Mexico to find his stroke, if not salvation.
“It's weird to say, but I got the suspension at the right time in my life,” he said.
Byrd's improved hitting impressed the Mets during spring training, and he went on to hit .285 with 21 homers and 71 RBI in New York. The run-starved Pirates found exactly what they needed.
“He's always been a tough hitter, a guy who can work an at-bat,” shortstop Clint Barmes said.
“Everything we've hoped for we've gotten,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. “This guy has thrown aces all over the table. Clubhouse, demeanor, the game edge, the quality at-bats, the ability to defend in right field, modeling the behavior you're looking to see late in the season at the plate.
“Young players get to see it... For a guy with no playoff experience, you would think he has a bunch.”
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.
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