Derek Lowe returned to familiar grounds with familiar fan fare. As Bostonians welcomed Lowe back with open arms and signs thanking him for his time spent with their team, the veteran right-hander approached the historic Fenway Park as a former inhabitant whose keys still made the locks turn.
The headlines will belong to Washington’s Steven Strasburg who fanned 13 Pittsburgh Pirate batters in just six innings of work. The tabloids and Twitterverse will focus on Boston’s Josh Beckett who the Red Sox traded for after Lowe moved on to more western pastures; after all, it’s Becket who is making $17 million this season and continues to grow larger by the day, the antagonist in the 2011 fried-chicken-and-beer scandal which tipped Red Sox Nation off its axis like a wayward flip-cup. But it was Lowe, on this night, who seemingly flew under the radar to mow through the perennially vaunted Red Sox lineup to record his fifth win of the season, each of which has followed an Indians loss.
The first-place Indians, recent losers of two straight contests to the White Sox, will head into their second game of their series against the Redder version, having lost no more than two-straight games thus far in the 2012 season. Last season, the role of the stopper belonged to Justin Masterson. With Bat taking the role of the ace, the 38-year-old Lowe has stepped right in without skipping a beat.
Sure, Kevin Youkilis’ back is giving him fits, potentially due to years of lugging around an eight-pound goatee. And unfortunatley for Boston, last year’s MVP hopeful in Jacoby Ellsbury has a shoulder that has since been subluxed. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the run support that Lowe has been provided on the oft occasion the Indians provide him an eight-spot, but the rest of Lowe’s wins this season have all been of the four-run variety. His lone non-quality start was his four-inning outing against the Seattle Mariners where he allowed the only two home runs he has given up as well as half of his season’s walk total. This is what they call an anomaly.
Erase that Pacific Northwest Nightmare and Lowe has yet to allow more than three earned runs in a contest, scattering hits with the utmost efficiency — often treading on dangerous — but managing innings like a methodical quarterback, firing pitches just as the batters enter their box, working quickly to induce groundouts by the bus-load. On Thursday night, Lowe allowed a mere four fly balls to his 18 worm-burners. In seven shut-out innings against the otherwise walloping Texas Rangers, Lowe allowed two fly balls. Two. Twenty other batted balls stayed on the ground.
Locating all of his pitches, Lowe doesn’t even pretend to be a power arm, throwing nary a fastball unless it’s of the “cut” variety. He will occasionally leave a sinker a tad higher than preferred; in these instances, he pays the price as he did against Adrian Gonzalez and Daniel Navain the fifth inning. But his teammates love playing behind him, knowing that they will get their opportunity to put the game closer to its final out on every pitch. Third baseman Jack Hannahan, who did a lot of the damage with his bat, spoke highly of Lowe’s game, praising the way the veteran “always keeps us on our toes.” The result, as has been all of this season, was a slew of ground-ball outs and one double-play.
In stark juxtaposition to Beckett, the player who the Sox received in return for a player you may have heard of in Hanley Ramirez, Lowe is also raking in quite the paycheck this season as he’s due $15 million — just $2 million shy of the former stud. The difference, which is quite glaring, is that the Atlanta Braves are footing $10 million of this. Beckett, the former ace who is now the face of last season’s collapse, was chased out of his stadium while the opposition was given a warmer reception. As Jeff Passan put ever so eloquently, Beckett took it “extra crispy on his extra chin.” Lowe merely took it, chalking up another six innings of quality work.
Last winter, Lowe took a lot of time off for reasons he could not explain. Fatigue and complacence certainly sit proudly on ones shoulder after years of inning-eating. This past winter, however, things were considerably different with Lowe taking a mere two weeks off from the game of baseball. Following a dreadful season in Atlanta, the one which forced the Braves to take pennies on the dollar, Lowe worked to improve, to get back to the man who was once thought of as one of the most reliable pitchers in the game. Who did he call on but a long-time friend and pitching coach in Ft. Myers, Florida, the same man who had worked with both he and Pedro Martinez when both men were with — wait for it… — with the Boston Red Sox, winning a championship in 2004.
While Beckett was greeted with a chorus of boos after his three-inning shellacking, the roar echoing from Pesky Pole to the Green Monster, cascading off of Stephen King’s book and wrapping around Will Hunting’s algorithms, Lowe made quick work of his colleagues just as he did 10 years earlier in the same confines. While Lowe would speak of memories had, both good and bad, the new chapter in his career is one of the veteran leader on an otherwise young and spry team. It’s certainly a different hat then the one he donned in Fenway many moons ago, but it’s one that is fitting him very well as the Indians continue to hold on to their first-place standings, having lost no more than two games in a row.