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Lowe finally is a go

He'll start tonight in twist of rotation

How fitting. Down, three games to none, their season on its deathbed, the Red Sox now have to pitch Derek Lowe.

There were situations in the first three games of the AL Championship Series that seemed perfectly suited for Lowe, who was bumped to the bullpen by the selection of Bronson Arroyo as No. 3 starter.

One such situation came in Game 1 against the Yankees, when Curt Schilling had to depart after three innings because of a balky ankle. Lowe never appeared.

Then, last night in Game 3, after Arroyo's poor start, it seemed like a perfect time to put Lowe in the game, forgo his scheduled Game 5 start, and see if he could hold the Yankees at bay so the Sox bats could get Boston back in the game. Didn't happen.

Instead, manager Terry Francona opted to use Tim Wakefield, who was tonight's scheduled starter. That move didn't work out too well. Wakefield was unable to halt the New York onslaught.

So tonight's Game 4 start falls on the shoulders of Lowe, who as an impending free agent might be making his last start for the Red Sox. In what could be the Sox' final game of 2004.

Lowe has seemed to have a chip on his shoulder since being left out of the AL Division Series against Anaheim and used only as a last resort against the Yankees. It'll be interesting to see which Lowe takes the mound: one with the demoralized attitude of an unloved child, or one determined to add a few zeroes to his free agent contract by pitching a beauty and keeping Boston alive for at least another day.

It's been the most trying of seasons for Lowe, who managed 14 wins but never seemed to be in rhythm. With a chance to solidify his No. 3 status behind Schilling and Pedro Martinez, Lowe flubbed every chance to hold off Arroyo, and in the end it was an easy decision for Francona when the postseason pitching rotation was set. Lowe, in fact, fell to fifth, behind Wakefield.

The inactivity of Lowe has been one of the most puzzling aspects of this Red Sox postseason. It's particularly puzzling to Lowe.

"I have nothing to say," Lowe said as he walked out the Red Sox clubhouse early this morning, after Boston had been clubbed, 19-8, in Game 3.

There wasn't much to say.

The sign on the bulletin board on the clubhouse door said it all: "We Can Make History! Believe It!"

That's what the Sox are hoping Lowe can spark. "I know he's going to respond," Johnny Damon said.

Pitching coach Dave Wallace said both Wakefield and Lowe volunteered for relief duty last night, but Wallace thought Wakefield was a better option because of his past success against the Yankees at Fenway. After Wakefield was handed the ball in the fourth inning, Wallace informed Lowe that he would be tonight's starter.

"Derek knows the situation he's in and he'll be ready," said Wallace. "He had a side session yesterday, so that's not a factor. This is a time when we all have to pick each other up." Asked if Lowe might be rusty, Wallace said, "Well, he's pitched over 200 innings. Whatever the factors are, we have to overcome them. We don't have any choice in the matter."

Moreover, Wallace said Lowe is a veteran who "has been in these situations before," referring to Lowe's outstanding relief appearance in Game 5 of the ALDS against Oakland last season.

Does Lowe have anything left to give? Will he prove the Red Sox wrong for bypassing him thus far in the playoffs?

He's the last hope that Red Sox Nation has.

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