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Lowe's bonus is starting

Contract is last thing on his mind

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / October 27, 2004

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Red Sox

ST. LOUIS -- A rotation dropout when the playoffs began, only to be promoted to a two-time starter/savior against the Yankees in the ALCS, Derek "The Resurrected" Lowe is scheduled to get the ball again tonight when the Red Sox take on the Cardinals in Game 4 of the World Series.

"Sometimes in life," Lowe said yesterday, mulling the circumstances that led to his starting Game 7 vs. the Yankees, "you only get an opportunity to go out and pitch a game like that once -- and I wasn't going to let that time slide."

There is no telling what tonight means for Lowe's future, short or long term, in Boston. For three-plus weeks now, he has been the club's designated vacillator, sent to bullpens in Boston, Anaheim, and New York to await his fate du jour. He didn't get a gig against the Angels until Game 3, when a 10th-inning appearance led to his picking up the series-clinching win (thank you, David Ortiz). Then when all hell and Curt Schilling's ankle tendon broke loose against the Yankees, he produced a pair of fine starts (Games 4, 7) vs. the Bombers.

"They could have chosen between [Bronson] Arroyo, [Tim] Wakefield, and myself, and they opted for me," said Lowe, recalling the circumstances around Game 7 in New York, where he hurled six strong innings, allowing only one hit and one run.

A free agent as soon as the Series comes to an end, Lowe doesn't know whether he'll be asked to sign on the dotted line of a new deal in Boston or told to hop the Blue Line to Logan.

"As far as being a free agent goes," he said, "I really put no stock all year in worrying about next year. Why should I start now?"

The case for Lowe remaining in Boston: Over the five years of the $14 million deal that is about to expire, he went 70-55 (a 14-win average) and picked up 85 saves. More than a quarter of those wins came in his sensational 21-8 season as a full-time starter in 2002.

The case for Lowe not being brought back: He dipped to 17-7 in '03 and then went an erratic 14-12 this year, including a season-ending collapse in which he went 0-1 with a 13.94 earned run average over his last four starts. That late-season self-immolation, after Lowe went 7-1 in his previous eight decisions, is what knocked him out of the rotation and into the No. 6 spot of a six-man relief corps for the playoffs.

"He wasn't too thrilled, and we expected that," said manager Terry Francona. "We told him what we were going to do. We told him to take a day or two to get it out of his system. If he wanted to pout, get mad, go ahead -- but he was going to help us win. To his credit, he got it out of his system."

Far more to his credit, he applied the brakes that got the Sox out of their tailspin against the Yankees. Less than 24 hours after the humiliating 19-8 loss in Game 3, Lowe took the ball at the Fens. He pitched admirably into the sixth, only to see Francona hustle to the mound and pull him at the slightest hint of a Yankee rally. Shaking his head and muttering to himself, Lowe made his way to the dugout.

"I thought I had more to offer," he said after the win, "but he thought otherwise."

With the World Series under way, and Lowe penciled in as the Game 4 starter, it still wasn't enough for him to lose the bullpen tag. He was out there at the foothills of the Fenway bleachers for Games 1 and 2, his durable right arm at the ready.

"I've always been very fortunate to have an arm that bounced back," said Lowe. "As far as the Game 4 start [vs. New York], I think I only pitched once [in relief vs. the Angels] in the last 16 days. So it made it easy to come back on two days' rest [for Game 7] -- and being a ground ball pitcher, you know, being a guy where you don't have overpowering stuff, it's easy to bounce back.

"But again, this is the playoffs, and it doesn't really matter if you pitch on one day's rest or 12 days -- you have to be prepared to go out when they ask you."

The Sox will have a 15-day period of exclusive bargaining rights to talk with Lowe about a new deal as soon as the Series comes to an end. The same goes for Pedro Martinez (last night's starter) and Jason Varitek, two other high-profile free agents.

All talk for another day, as far as Lowe is concerned.

"I love this time of year," he said. "I think you have to. I think you have to relish the opportunity to go out there, not be scared to fail, prepare your butt off to go out and pitch a good game. For the past couple of years, I think that's worked."

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