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This performance was vintage Lowe

Righty regains form of '02 breakout year

Manager Grady Little acknowledged there were thoughts of a no-hitter at the start of the fifth inning. And despite the two runs and four hits Derek Lowe eventually allowed last night, the manager believed it was Lowe's best performance of the season.

In contrast to his usually subdued postgame patter, Little was downright effusive in his praise of Lowe, who improved to 16-6 with the Red Sox' 8-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Fenway Park. The righthander seems to be peaking at the perfect time.

Lowe was impressively efficient, settling into a comfortable rhythm and setting up his sinker with great success. According to Little, the eight-inning outing was reminiscent of the way Lowe performed last season when he earned All-Star honors, posted a 21-8 record, and finished third in the American League Cy Young Award voting.

``He was outstanding,'' said Little. ``It looked to me like he was reaching the top of his game right here at the right time.''

Lowe held Tampa Bay hitless until Marlon Anderson came to the plate in the fifth inning with two outs. On a 2-and-2 count, Anderson hit a soft liner over the glove of third baseman Bill Mueller. The sellout crowd groaned, knowing they now held ticket stubs to an ordinary game, not a history-maker.

But until that single, at precisely 8:19 p.m., the Red Sox and their fans saw shades of the 10-0 no-hitter Lowe pitched against Tampa Bay April 27, 2002, at Fenway. Lowe was not merely pitching well. He was dominating. Anderson was not only the first batter to record a hit, he was also the first batter to send a ball beyond the infield.

After five innings, Lowe had recorded 10 ground outs and five strikeouts. Needless to say, the sinker was particularly effective. The final total had Lowe recording 17 of his 24 outs on ground balls.

``[Catcher Jason] Varitek did a really good job of mixing it up,'' said Lowe. ``I didn't really get in a pattern. My strength is always going to be low and away ... We threw enough balls in to set up the sinker away. When you're a sinkerball guy and you get into a good rhythm, you like your chances out there.''

The Devil Rays' damage was limited to two hitters in the sixth inning. With two outs, Rocco Baldelli doubled down the right-field line. Then, on a full count, Aubrey Huff sent a low-trajectory homer into the Red Sox bullpen. It was the first time Lowe allowed a home run since July 27 against New York, when Jason Giambi sent one deep in the first inning. It ended a stretch of 59 innings without a homer off Lowe.

But there were bigger milestones for Lowe. His 16th win leads the team, and his six strikeouts included the 600th of his career, when Baldelli was caught looking leading off the fourth. All good signs as Lowe continues to improve over the second half of the season, employing lessons he learned over his career year in 2002.

``I'm stronger because I learned a lot last year,'' said Lowe, who felt a little extra pressure given that Boston had lost two in a row. ``If you look at my years, I had an effective early part of the year and struggled late. I've kind of reversed it this year. You learn what you need to do. I went two or three weeks where I didn't throw on the side.

``This is the time of year you want to peak. I kept trying to tell myself and you guys that when I was struggling early, that it's a long year. You can have a very successful year even though you start off poor. Try to be consistent. Realize that 33 starts is a long way to go and we set ourselves up with 13 games to go in a pretty good situation.''

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