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Nightmare finish for Lowe

OAKLAND, Calif. - It's a nightmare Derek Lowe thought he'd left behind two years ago.

"There's no worse feeling than giving up the last run of the game," Lowe had said after happily abandoning the role of closer after leading the American League in relief losses with 10 during the 2001 season, a summer when he was booed with regularity and said he fielded his share of death threats.

But it all came flooding back for Lowe last night, when Grady Little summoned him out of the bullpen as a last resort in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, and Lowe gave up the winning run on a surprise bases-loaded bunt by A's catcher Ramon Hernandez in the 12th inning of Oakland's 5-4 win over the Sox in Game 1 of their American League Division Series.

"Never in a million years I thought he'd bunt," said Lowe, the last of six Sox pitchers to work last night. "They're anti-steal, anti-bunt, and tonight they did both in the last couple of innings."

Now, the shaken righthander faces the mind-numbing prospect of being a two-time loser within the span of three games. Lowe is scheduled to pitch Game 3 in Boston, and after throwing 42 pitches last night, can hardly be expected to be at full strength.

"This didn't help my cause," Lowe said, acknowledging the chance he'll be weary Saturday. "But come Saturday night it's going to be your turn to pitch.

"I'm looking at it like this was my seventh day off. I would have been pitching [Saturday] on my ninth day. My pitch count, I don't think, was what any of us wanted, but when you have nine days off, sometimes the feel isn't there, so maybe this will help me."

But there's no telling what turbulent emotional terrain Lowe will be left to wander after Hernandez's bunt, which followed three walks (one intentional). He bent over in agony as Eric Chavez crossed the plate with the winning run, then looked vacantly toward the upper deck as he walked off the mound and took a seat on the dugout bench as the A's mobbed Hernandez.

The relief appearance was Lowe's first since Sept. 9, 2001. He had made 68 consecutive starts until last night.

Little could have called on young Bronson Arroyo or graybeard John Burkett. Instead, after BK Kim and Alan Embree collaborated to blow a save in the ninth inning, and Mike Timlin and Scott Williamson were used up, Lowe received the call.

He wasn't supposed to pitch in Oakland, remember? Little had selected Tim Wakefield to start Game 2 here this afternoon, with Lowe due to go in Game 3 in Boston Saturday.

But then Little lost faith in Kim when he pulled another Cleveland - walking Billy McMillon and hitting Chris Singleton. He left Kim to face the righthanded-hitting Mark Ellis, who went down swinging, but waved in Embree to face the lefthanded- hitting Erubiel Durazo, who promptly knocked in the tying run.

Williamson worked a scoreless 10th before Lowe received his summons. He walked Hernandez, the first batter he faced, but after a force play and stolen base by Singleton put the winning run in scoring position, he whiffed Ellis to end the 11th.

But he walked Erubiel Durazo to open the 12th. Chavez forced Durazo and Miguel Tejada bounced to third. Lowe's former catcher, Scott Hatteberg, worked a full-count walk as Lowe neglected Chavez, who stole third. Hatteberg scooted to second without drawing a throw on strike one to Terrence Long, which prompted Little to order an intentional walk to Long.

"That pretty much backs you into a corner," Lowe said of the move that left him no margin for error. "You get a strike on a guy, maybe you have a chance to get him out."

Hernandez then took a strike before dropping his bunt.

"Freaky, really," Chavez said of the bunt, which was called by third-base coach Ron Washington after he saw third baseman Billy Mueller setting up behind the bag. "A slow catcher, but Wash told me he would watch Mueller and if he was playing back, he'd flash the bunt sign."

Said A's starter Tim Hudson: "I guess the chances of us winning on a bunt are a million to one."

This loss, Lowe said, ranks with the long list of devastating defeats the team has had this summer.

"This is right up there," he said. "But there's nothing you can do. Game's over with. No sense in sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. We've got to be out here early tomorrow."

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