Even before the first pitch, it looked like a mismatch. And it was -- Randy Johnson was no match for Paul Byrd.
"I'm a Christian and I know all about the David and Goliath story," Byrd said. "I guess you could say it was similar to that tonight. He's a giant."
Johnson (3-1) had breezed in the NL since being traded by Seattle on July 31 and was coming off two straight shutouts, including one against the Phillies. But the 6-foot-10 ace was nowhere close to his usual, dominant self after striking out leadoff man Doug Glanville on a 96 mph fastball.
"I went out there and was a little flat," Johnson said. "I struggled with my mechanics and my fastball.
"I think I threw more changeups than I had all year," he said. "The reason for that was I didn't really feel I had a whole lot of anything else out there."
Pitching at Veterans Stadium for the first time since facing Mike Schmidt and the Phillies in early 1989, Johnson seemed uncomfortable on a mound that had been covered during an all-day rain.
Relying on sliders as much as the pure heat that once terrorized former Phillies star John Kruk, Johnson gave up Byrd's RBI single in the second inning and a two-run homer to Scott Rolen in the fifth.
Johnson left after the fifth trailing 3-0 after allowing six hits ad four walks, with just three strikeouts. In his previous 25 innings for the Astros, he had walked four and struck out 33.
"He just couldn't find any rhythm and he didn't have his good control, either," Astros manager Larry Dierker said. "He was just kind of out of whack."
If the crowd of 18,975 -- held down by the weather -- came out to see a great pitching performance, it saw it from Byrd as he pitched his first major league shutout.
Byrd (1-0) had pitched only once in the majors this season, making an ineffective relief appearance for Atlanta on April 19, and was claimed on waivers last Friday after going 5-5 at Triple-A Richmond.
Facing the top-scoring offense in the NL, Byrd did not permit a runner past first base, striking out six and walking one. He also got only three outs on grounders, rare for a side-armer.
"I was almost in tears at the end of the game," Byrd said. "I consider myself a blue-collar worker and I was just pleased to get the ball."
With the fans standing and cheering, Byrd recorded the final out on Moises Alou's foul pop to Rolen at third. Rolen rushed to Byrd, handed him the ball and gave him a big hug.
Byrd got hearty handshakes from all of his new teammates, then stayed on the field near the dugout for a few moments, signing autographs and tossing baseballs into the stands.
"I fell in love with Philadelphia tonight," he said. `"I almost cried when I got that standing ovation."
Phillies manager Terry Francona admitted before the game that the only thing he knew about Byrd was that he resembled actor Kelsey Grammer.
"He called me `Frasier' as soon as I walked into the clubhouse," Byrd said. "It broke the ice. I felt very comfortable."
The 27-year-old right-hander got off a shaky start -- he knocked his hat off during his first warmup pitch and stopped in mid-motion. Once he began for real, though, he was sensational.
Byrd had never pitched more than six innings in 87 prior games in the majors, going 7-6 for Atlanta and the New York Mets. His previous win came last Sept. 18 for the Braves against the Mets.
The Phillies signed Byrd because of injuries to their rotation, and he took advantage of his chance to impress.
"I think he views this as a huge opportunity and he took a huge step in that direction," Phillies manager Terry Francona said.
Johnson, meanwhile, struggled all evening. He frequently pawed at the mound and rubber and questioned a couple of calls by plate umpire Terry Tata.
Mark Lewis singled with one out in the Phillies second and Mark Parent followed with a walk. With two outs, Byrd pulled a slider for a sharp single to left-center, his second hit in 11 at-bats in the majors.
"I made a mistake with Byrd," Johnson said. "I threw him a breaking ball. I should have never done that."
Byrd agreed he got a break.
"He hit my bat," Byrd said. "I was lucky he didn't throw tat 97 mph heater in there."
Rolen hit his 24th home run in the fifth. Lewis added a sacrifice fly in the seventh.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved