Lowe is aware that he walked right into this
It's almost worth watching Derek Lowe pitch badly, just so we can hear what he's going to say.
"Personally," he said, "I'm disgusted with the way I pitched."
That's a strong word, "disgusted." I'd say it's a bit hyperbolic. Personally, I'd save derivatives of the word "disgust" to describe what Moises Alou does to toughen up his hands.
But Lowe had a point, and not just about yesterday's game. In six starts this season he has pitched really well once. His ERA is more than 5, and you can quibble about inherited runners and all that stuff if you like, but let's get serious: He has not exactly been Mr. Reliable this season.
The Royals didn't bang him all over the ballpark yesterday. They didn't have to. He walked five men (one intentionally and one semi-intentionally after falling behind in the count) during 5 2/3 innings of work, and it was worse than that. Walking Mike Sweeney is one thing. Walking Desi Relaford and David DeJesus is another, especially when you do it in succession, and with two men out.
"Walking the eight and nine hitter back-to-back never normally leads to success," Lowe reasoned. "All in all, it wasn't a very well-pitched game."
Those bottom two men in the Royals' order were absolute killers, and not just for Lowe. Relaford walked twice and singled and scored all three times he reached base; DeJesus walked once and reached on a fielder's choice and scored twice. I would rather doubt the need to call our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau to inquire just how many times in the course of a season a team that gets five runs scored from the 8 and 9 spots in the order loses a game. I'd wager it's slightly less than the number of times Eric Gagne blows a save.
Lowe's capacity for self-flagellation was practically limitless. "Yeah," he declared, "I just felt like I shot myself in the foot, more than anything, with the amount of walks. That was just a poorly-pitched game by me."
Time, perhaps, to give some credit to the Other Guys. The Royals appeared to be pretty discerning up there.
"I mean, I don't think they swung at any balls that weren't strikes," Lowe said. "I kept hearing that from their dugout the whole game; `Make him get it up.' It's good strategy to have."
"We talked about being patient," said Matt Stairs. "We haven't been doing it for the past 15 or 16 games, but we did it today."
"We did have a game plan," confirmed Sweeney, who was 2 for 2 with three intentional walks. "We wanted to be selective and make him get the ball up."
The biggest blow came after Lowe departed with the bases loaded in the sixth. That was a bases-clearing double into the left-field corner by Carlos Beltran. The victim was lefty Mark Malaska. The runs, of course, were charged to Lowe, and how much sympathy can you extend to a guy who had just walked the eighth and ninth hitters?
Once again, the words of Lowe: "This was probably one of the most frustrating games I've had in my career," he sighed. "I mean, it's sickening to know we lost the game from where it seemed like we had it under control (a 2-0 lead on Bill Mueller's line-drive homer) and then just have it unravel that fast, especially with walks, is frustrating."
Six weeks into the season Derek Lowe isn't yet the Derek Lowe of 2003, and the Derek Lowe of 2003 wasn't really close to the Derek Lowe of 2002. Should it be such an article of faith that the Red Sox have a great No. 3 starter? Should we concentrate less on his 17 wins last year and start focusing more on such things as an almost obscene 2003 run support (a league-leading 7.26 a game) that masked a 4.47 ERA, nearly two runs higher than his 2002 figure? We are now talking about a sampling of 42 starts, including three in the 2003 postseason, during which his ERA is in the high 4s.
Was 2002 Just One of Those Things, a baseball trip to the moon on gossamer wings, as Cole Porter might say?
That certainly isn't the party line. "I think some of his numbers are a little skewed," asserted manager Terry Francona. "We've been over that, with the 10 days off [between starts], and everything. He's a pitcher where, once he finds a rhythm, can reel off a lot of outs in a row. Finding that rhythm, it has been a little bit in and out; I can agree with that."
"We're still trying to find the mix," Lowe said. "Of how many sinkers you throw, how many breaking balls you throw. I think when a lot of guys get on base, it's from inconsistency."
"It always looks worse than it is with sinkerball pitchers," said pitching coach Dave Wallace. "You're looking at the stats, and you say, `Gee,' but when you see him pitch it's a different story."
Wallace says he saw some classic sinkerball hits through the hole, etc. But that wouldn't account for the troublesome bases on balls. "Walking the eight and nine men, that's unusual," Wallace agreed.
Wallace insisted, however, that Lowe had "pretty good stuff," and that he was "close." Close to what, exactly? Close to a four-hit shutout, or close to having his skipper reach for the cyanide pellets as he watches more eight and nine men skip merrily off to first base?
But the news wasn't all bad. If there is one constant voice of reason in the Red Sox clubhouse, it's the one belonging to the catcher. Jason Varitek is either going to tell you what he believes to be the gospel truth, or he will give you the "No comment" routine. And here is how Varitek summed up the Lowe he caught through 23 batters and 103 pitches yesterday:
"He probably had a better feel for his sinker today than he's had all year," Varitek said. "There were a lot of positives out there today. I hope it travels to him."
That's a long way from "disgusted," and more in line with Wallace's "close." So maybe the guy will figure it out, eventually.
"You gotta realize that it is a long year, and you just gotta keep going." That was Derek Lowe talking, and if that doesn't sum up baseball, what does?
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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