QUINCY -- They turned out by the hundreds yesterday to present Derek Lowe a golden key to the City of Presidents and implore the Red Sox to re-sign the affable sinkerballer.
"We want to see Derek stay," Mayor William J. Phelan said amid a sea of Lowe supporters in the November chill at Adams Field. "He's obviously got many more years of good pitching in front of him, and he certainly proved what he was worth last month, no question about it."
Actually, Lowe acknowledged there may be serious questions about his future in Boston, even after he won the clinchers of all three postseason series to help the Sox capture the franchise's first world championship in 86 years.
Lowe, who filed Monday for free agency, said a number of teams in both leagues already had contacted him to express interest in signing him. But none were the Sox.
"It's probably more teams than people might think," Lowe said, declining to identify them or specify how many have expressed interest. "And they're pretty good quality teams, too."
The Sox have remained tightlipped about their strategy for dealing with their prospective free agents, most notably Lowe, Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, and Orlando Cabrera. But there were strong indications that team officials initially have channeled their energy into trying to retain Varitek and Martinez. The Sox also have arranged to meet next week with Cabrera's agent, but they had no immediate plans to address Lowe's situation.
By last night, the Sox had exhausted seven of the 15 days after the World Series in which they have exclusive rights to negotiate with their free agents (other teams can express interest, but may not discuss financial terms until at least Nov. 12). And Lowe, who had expected to hear from the Sox within a couple of days after the World Series if they wanted to re-sign him, was reluctant to draw conclusions about the team's silence, though he indicated his "gut feeling" was not promising.
"One thing about playing in this city is that you can kind of see what's going on just by reading the paper," he said. "Since I really haven't seen one thing said about them wanting me to come back, it kind of tells you the writing might be on the wall as far as your career here."
Lowe said he has seen "all the negative stuff" about the Sox lacking interest in retaining him and has repeatedly heard "the misperception that I don't want to come back." He reiterated he would relish remaining in Boston as part of the core of players who helped win the Sox' first World Series since 1918, but he indicated that winning the championship could help ease the disappointment of moving on.
Lowe told the hundreds in Quincy who turned out for "Derek Lowe Day" that he appreciated their support. He has lived in Quincy during the season since 1998 and also has developed an affection for Boston during his roller coaster tenure with the Sox.
"Winning a World Series will take a lot of that away," Lowe said of the potential sense of loss. "The fear a lot of players had who played here for a long time was that the Sox would win a World Series the year after they left. That's all you want to do, bring a championship to this city. And having done that now, it makes it a little easier if you have to go."
Lowe sensed as early as spring training that the Sox had little interest in retaining him, at least for what he considered his market value. Despite reports that the Sox offered him $27 million over three years, Lowe said the team never offered him a contract longer than two years with an option for a third, meaning the guaranteed money was far less than $27 million. He wasted little time rejecting it.
"It wasn't like a decision where you had to sit down and think about it for more than a second," Lowe said at the time.
Lowe was believed to be seeking a contract commensurate with those signed last winter by a number of free agent starters, including Bartolo Colon (four years, $51 million) and Andy Pettitte (three years, $31.5 million). And despite a season marred by inconsistency (he went 14-12 with a 5.42 ERA), Lowe could command a similar deal this winter because of his durability and his spectacular finish in the postseason.
The only pitcher in the majors who has won more games than Lowe (52) and Curt Schilling (52) over the last three seasons is Colon (53). And in addition to clinching all three postseason series this season, Lowe closed out the only playoff series the Sox won last year, against the A's.
"I feel like I've given everything I had to this organization and given them success," he said. "If they decide they want to go another route, I don't want to say that's not good enough. All you can do is go out there and pitch when you are asked and try to have success, and what more team success can you have than winning a championship?"
For all his success, Lowe also struggled mightily with the Sox, as he did in late September, prompting the team to bump him from the rotation as the playoffs began. He took the demotion as a stronger message than the team's contract offer in spring training that the Sox might not want him back.
"Going to the bullpen in Round 1 shows you the confidence they had in you at that time," he said. "Obviously, it wasn't much."
Lowe suggested the Sox might be able to part more easily with him this year because of the large number of starters on the free agent market. They include Carl Pavano, Brad Radke, Eric Milton, Russ Ortiz, Matt Morris, Odalis Perez, and Kevin Millwood.
When Lowe mentioned the uncertainty of his future during the ceremony in Quincy, his supporters shrieked for him to stay with the Sox. But as prepared to head home with his key to the city, he acknowledged there may be little he could do but cherish the memories -- and the support of fans throughout New England. "No matter what happens," he said, "knowing they're not going to forget what you did is special." . . .
The Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America will hold its annual dinner Thursday, Jan. 13 at the Sheraton Boston Hotel. Tickets are $125 and are available by mailing a check to the Boston chapter of the BBWAA, P.O. Box 7346, Nashua, N.H. 03060. Orders will be processed in order of postmark. Numerous awards will be presented at the dinner, including the Thomas A. Yawkey Memorial Award for the team's most valuable player to David Ortiz.