Sports your connection to The Boston Globe

A Lowe-spirited effort

Starter primed for the clincher

Derek Lowe wore his wild-card T-shirt over his uniform and his hat was askew. He was drenched in champagne and beer, the perfect cocktail to describe this team of headliners and hardhats.

Teammate Damian Jackson jumped on a table to soak Lowe with more beer, but his effort failed, just like the Orioles' batters who faced him for six innings in last night's wild-card clinching victory at delirious Fenway Park.

More than any other player, Lowe typifies Red Sox Nation. He wears his heart on his sleeve. When he is pitching, you don't have to look at the scoreboard to see how the Olde Town Team is doing. Just look at Lowe. He has shown anguish in defeat and delight in victory during this season of peaks and valleys.

"We've had a lot of ups and downs from the beginning of the year, there's been a lot of pressure. To start the year the way I did and . . . there was a lot of questions about me and the team."

There certainly was. Although Lowe backed up his 21-win 2002 season with another solid effort (17-7 with a 4.47 ERA), he gave the Fenway faithful fits early in the season.

On May 11, his record plummeted to 3-3 after lasting only four innings in a 9-8 loss at Minnesota. That loss was preceded by two devastating performances on the road. April 24, he lasted only two-plus innings in a 16-5 loss at Texas. On May 5, he went 3 2/3 innings in a 7-6 loss to the Royals, although he did not factor in the decision.

And there were his blisters.

Some hinted he was a one-year wonder. But he -- and the Red Sox -- proved everyone wrong.

Last night, Lowe flirted with a no-hitter. But in the fifth inning, he yielded an infield single to Luis Matos and a clean single to center by Jack Cust. Those were the only hits he allowed in six innings, allowing two runs, one earned.

Lowe threw 94 pitches, 56 for strikes. If he had a problem, it was his control. He gave up four walks, two to Brook Fordyce, which is understandable since the Connecticut native is a .422 lifetime hitter (10 for 22) against Lowe.

But don't blame Lowe for lack of focus. Fenway was electric last night, and Lowe knew it.

"You can't script a better win, especially with our offense scoring a lot of runs early," said Lowe, who has 38 victories the last two seasons. "I think this game was great for the fans only because you could feel the anticipation. Every inning you could feel it getting closer and closer."

Lowe made a team-high 33 starts and the Red Sox won more games (22) he started than any other pitcher, including Pedro Martinez (17). And he came to the park roaring, ready to pitch.

"I think every starting pitcher would want the ball in this situation," said Lowe, who set the tone in the first inning by getting Brian Roberts, Jerry Hairston, and Larry Bigbie to ground out on just five pitches.

Lowe's teammates obliged with run support (12 runs in four innings) as Lowe cruised. He is waiting to be handed the ball against the A's in Oakland.

"We haven't been in the playoffs for [four] years and we had to watch it on television," said Lowe. "Now we are back in it. Now we got Pedro healthy. He doesn't have to get extended tomorrow. He can get plenty of rest. Things are looking pretty good."

One magic number is over for the Red Sox, another begins. It is 11, the number it takes to bring home the World Series title. "We got all the components. We have the offense," said Lowe. "We don't want to look too far down the road. We just want to enjoy today."

Globe Archives Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months