His reputation, his clean-cut image, his stature as one of baseball's good guys, they all took a hit.
And Paul Byrd, the soft-tossing pitcher who prides himself on command and control, couldn't stop it.
Just hours before Game 7 of the AL championship series Sunday, Byrd acknowledged using human growth hormone for a medical condition. But the Cleveland Indians' right-hander claims he never injected the banned drug without a doctor's prescription.
"I have nothing to hide," Byrd said about two hours before his team's biggest game against the Boston Red Sox. "Everything has been done out in the open. I have a reputation. I speak to kids, I speak to churches. I do not want the fans of Cleveland or honest, caring people to think that I cheated.
"Because I didn't."
Byrd, whose win in Game 4 of the ALCS moved the Indians within one victory of the World Series, bought nearly $25,000 worth of HGH and syringes from 2002-05, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday.
HGH was not banned by baseball until Jan. 13, 2005. Byrd made his final purchase of HGH a week earlier, the newspaper said.
The Chronicle said Byrd made 13 purchases of HGH between August 2002 and January 2005. During those seasons, he was with Kansas City, Atlanta and the Los Angeles Angels.
Known for his old-school windup and savvy on the mound, Byrd bought HGH from a Palm Beach, Fla., anti-aging clinic under investigation by authorities for possible illegal distribution of performance-enhancing drugs, the paper said.
The Chronicle, citing an unidentified law enforcement source, said two of Byrd's prescriptions for HGH were not written by a physician.
Standing in front of a media throng outside the Indians' clubhouse, Byrd said he has a pituitary gland condition that required him to take HGH.
Pressed on when he was diagnosed and the nature of his condition, Byrd declined several times to give any details. HGH is banned by Major League Baseball and the International Olympic Committee.
"I have never taken any hormones or any drugs not prescribed to me," Byrd said.
Byrd was available to pitch out of the bullpen in Game 7, and was hoping his situation would not be a distraction for the Indians. He wasn't used in an 11-2 loss that ended Cleveland's season and clinched the pennant for the Red Sox, who overcame a 3-1 series deficit.
Byrd spoke to his teammates before the game.
"They understand the situation and we respect each other," Byrd said. "These guys have worked way too hard to let something like this distract them at the last minute."
However, the allegations against Byrd created a circus-like atmosphere in the narrow passageways inside Fenway Park as Indians players had to step around reporters and camera crews on their way to the batting cages.
After Byrd spoke for about 10 minutes, general manager Mark Shapiro addressed the media.
Shapiro, who has known Byrd for 14 years, said he was not made aware of the pitcher's condition or the 36-year-old's use of HGH until Friday.
Byrd claims baseball officials have known that he's been taking the drug, which he said he has stored in clubhouse refrigerators. But baseball spokesman Pat Courtney was quoted by The New York Times as saying: "We did not know that he was taking HGH."
Byrd promised to address his situation in more detail once Game 7 was completed.
"I do have a pituitary issue," he said. "I don't know exactly what that means yet."
Byrd said doctors prescribed HGH after he had "very low" hormone readings.
The 12-year veteran said he had been tempted to abuse the performance-enhancing drug but resisted.
"I have had temptations to cheat," said Byrd. "I have been asked by pitching coaches, 'Here's how you scuff a ball. Here's how you put saliva on a ball.' I was prescribed a hormone and I did inject it.
"I have had the temptation to take more of it than what was prescribed, so my fastball would reach into the 90s (mph) on a consistent basis. I never succumbed to any of those temptations. I never took any more than what was prescribed. I was trying to think of a way to prove that to people. I don't know that there is."
Byrd maintains he's been working with Major League Baseball. Officials, however, said they want to speak with him.
"We will investigate the allegations concerning Paul Byrd as we have players implicated in previous similar reports," the league statement said.
Also accused of buying HGH: Los Angeles Angels outfielder Gary Matthews, St. Louis outfielder Rick Ankiel and Texas Rangers infielder Jerry Hairston Jr.
Players can apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) to take drugs for various medical conditions, but none has ever been granted for HGH. That includes Byrd, Courtney said.
Byrd won Game 4 of the ALCS at Jacobs Field on Tuesday. In the first round of the playoffs, he earned the victory in Cleveland's Game 4 series-clinching win over the New York Yankees.
According to the Chronicle, which reviewed the clinic's business records, Byrd used his credit card and spent $24,850 on more than 1,000 vials of HGH, an injectable prescription drug with muscle-building properties. He also bought hundreds of syringes.
The Chronicle said it reviewed records of shipping orders and payment information on Byrd such as his Social Security number. The records were provided to the paper by an unidentified source.
Based on the paper's review, Byrd had some shipments sent to his home in Alpharetta, Ga., $1,050 worth of syringes and HGH to the Braves' spring training facility in Kissimmee, Fla., and a $2,000 order to the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York, when the Braves were in town to play the Mets.
Byrd didn't deny using his credit card to buy the drugs or having them shipped to him.
The Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center, the clinic where Byrd made the alleged purchases, is part of a network of anti-aging clinics and online pharmacies targeted by the Albany, N.Y., district attorney for alleged illegal sales of steroids and growth hormone.
"If that pharmacy did something wrong," Byrd said, "I did not know about it. I never received anything in a shipment that wasn't prescribed to me."
The Chronicle said one of the prescriptions Byrd used to buy growth hormone was written by a Florida dentist, whose license was suspended in 2003 for fraud and incompetence. Byrd was slowed by an elbow injury in 2003, when records show he made six purchases of HGH.
Byrd went 15-8 with a 4.59 ERA this season, his second with the Indians. They signed him to a two-year, $14 million contract in December 2005, and Cleveland holds a club option for 2008.