NEW YORK -- He has risen from the ashes, much like his baseball team, from the depths of a seemingly lost and bitterly disappointing season to the indescribable elation of an improbable, yet brilliant comeback. The Boston Red Sox, once down, 3-0, in the American League Championship Series, orchestrated the biggest turnaround in baseball history by beating the New York Yankees four straight times, culminated by a Game 7 triumph last night that was made possible by Derek Lowe.
Lowe, banished from the starting rotation for the playoffs, a persona non grata who was deemed too flaky and unreliable to serve in a meaningful postseason role, pitched six masterful innings, holding the Yankees to one hit and one run. He was virtually untouchable from the third inning on, when he retired 11 in a row, and squelched any possible momentum in the eerily somber Yankee Stadium. It was the most important performance of his career, and it was among the best.
Pitching on two days' rest, Lowe induced seven ground balls and two strikeouts among those final 11 batters. He appeared to grow stronger as the game progressed, showing terrific command of his trademark sinkerball and his changeup.
"We tried to keep throwing first-pitch strikes," Lowe said. "That was the key. And I never took the score for granted. Getting six runs [in the first two innings] was huge, there's no denying that. But I kept trying to think of it as a one-run game."
This was vintage Lowe, the pitcher who won 20 games, pitched a no-hitter, and lived up to his reputation as the best athlete on the team. The Lowe who bumbled through a good part of 2004, including a humiliating afternoon in Yankee Stadium Sept. 18 in which he unraveled on national television, was not in evidence last night.
"It was a personal challenge for me to come in here and pitch after that disaster the last time," he said.
Lowe, who acknowledged earlier in the week he was pitching for his future, which probably won't be in Boston beyond the World Series, said he tried to keep his emotions in check until the last out of the sixth, when he knew he was coming out.
"It's been quite a ride," he said, awash in champagne. "I had no idea what my role was from day to day. It wasn't easy not knowing if I was going to play, or when. I give the organization a lot of credit. They had a whole bunch of options for Game 7, and they were willing to give me the ball."
This was Lowe's the third significant appearance in the postseason. He came on in relief in extra innings against the Anaheim Angels in the Division Series, pitched a scoreless frame in the 10th, then picked up the win when David Ortiz hit a walkoff homer.
He was summoned again in Game 4 of this series, an emergency starter filling in for Tim Wakefield, who needed to rescue Bronson Arroyo from an early beating in Game 3.
In Game 4, Lowe staked his club to a 3-2 lead, was yanked in the sixth after 88 pitches, and shook his head in disgust walking off the mound. He was frustrated and disappointed, and wondered aloud if he would get another chance.
He was given that chance in one of the biggest games in Red Sox history. By winning Game 7, the Red Sox did something no other team in baseball history has done: come back from a 3-0 series deficit. The magnitude of that, said Lowe, has not sunk in.
"Maybe I'll think about that later," he said. "Right now it feels good to celebrate. It feels good to contribute. I was fortunate tonight to have a good changeup. Probably more than half of those pitches were with that changeup.
Who can say whether this changes Lowe's future with his team? It was a moot point last night, a night to be savored without any negative thoughts attached.
"I'd be lying if I said this wasn't particularly satisfying," Lowe said. "We're all competitors. When someone tells you you can't do something you think you can, you want to go out and prove them wrong. The [original] decision to put me in the bullpen was correct because I pitched badly down the stretch [of the regular season]."
If nothing else, Lowe's clutch performance enabled him to earn his place back in the starting rotation for the World Series.
"I hope so," Lowe said. "I'd love another chance. But I'm not thinking about Saturday or Sunday or any other day right now. I'm thinking about this moment, and this team, and how lucky I am to be part of it."
His teammates, meanwhile, were thinking how lucky they were to have him.
"He was the key to the series," said Arroyo. "Without him, we don't get here.
"Every day I reminded him, `Hang in there. We're going to need you. Hang in there.' "
Derek Lowe listened. And then he made history.
Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.