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Lowe's road to glory

ST. LOUIS -- For Derek Lowe, two roads diverged not in a yellow wood, as New England's poet laureate Robert Frost had it, but on the greenswards of Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, and Busch Stadium.

One led to oblivion, the other to a piece of baseball immortality.

The 31-year-old Red Sox pitcher, so loosely wired that his best friend in high school once described him as a male bimbo, so easily unstrung that amateur psychologists throughout New England cleared space on their couches, made the right choice.

In a hardball resurrection that lifted an entire region out of a graveyard of heartbreak, Lowe completed one of the most remarkable runs of pressure pitching in the annals of October baseball, shutting out the Cardinals on three hits over seven innings in a 3-0 win that gave the Sox a four-game sweep of the Redbirds in the 100th World Series.

If he was a professional wrestler, Lowe would be forever known as the Clincher, having entered and won in relief when the Sox won the deciding game in the American League Division Series against Anaheim, holding the Yankees to a single hit and run in winning a deciding Game 7 in the American League Championship Series, and then adding the capper last night, rendering a desperate Cardinals lineup helpless when it mattered most.

"Where's my wife? Where's my family?" said Lowe, who was first denied entry onto the field after the game by a security guard heedless to the fact that the man with a cigar balanced between two fingers and a champagne bottle cradled to his body was as deserving as anyone in a Sox uniform to party to his heart's desire -- which at times has been a flashpoint of controversy for him.

"I love you," his wife, Trinka, whispered into his ear as they embraced on the field, and a moment later, Lowe was sweeping his mother, Diane, off her feet, while his father, Don, reached for his hand.

"It couldn't be any sweeter for Derek," Diane Lowe said. "It's been such a hard year for him. To finish like this is unbelievable. The fans in Boston, I've been to Boston so many times, and they're so deserving of this."

Don Lowe pulled out a lighter and extended it to Lowe's cigar, inviting him to puff with that victor's smugness so often seen on the face of Red Auerbach on other championship nights.

"Are you believing this now?" Don Lowe said.

To the saga of Curt Schilling's bloody sock and Pedro Martinez's "I'm still the daddy" performance in Game 3 here, there is now this: Derek Lowe, a pitcher banished to the bullpen at the end of the regular season, convinced that the Sox did not want to use him midway through the Yankees series, pitching two of the defining games in franchise history.

"He didn't put his tail between his legs," manager Terry Francona said, not acknowledging how unhappy Lowe had been at the start of this tournament. "He went out and competed."

When the seventh inning ended last night with Lowe striking out Cardinals left fielder John Mabry, the TV cameras caught Sox owner John W. Henry turning to his partner, Tom Werner, and going, "Wow."

Reminded of that moment just before Tim Wakefield, carrying the world championship trophy, embraced him and said, `You're a world champion, too," Henry shook his head in wonderment.

"These were the two toughest games perhaps in Red Sox history," Henry said. "And he went out and held the Yankees to a hit, and shut out the Cardinals on three hits? That's just an incredible thing."

Lowe, staked to a 1-0 lead by Johnny Damon's leadoff home run, gave up a leadoff single to Tony Womack in the bottom of the first. then Larry Walker, the Cardinals' leading hitter in the Series, decided on his own to try to bunt for a hit. Lowe pounced on the ball, threw out Walker easily, and retired Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen on infield tappers.

Womack was one of just two Cardinal hitters to advance to third base against Lowe. The other was Edgar Renteria, who hit a one-out gap double in the fifth and took third on a wild pitch. But Lowe whiffed Mabry, then retired Yadier Molina on a roller to short.

When he was finally lifted, after throwing just 85 pitches, Lowe had retired the Cardinals on eight ground balls, four whiffs, four pop or flyouts, and five line drives hit right at somebody.

"I knew Derek could do this, I knew it all year long," said Tony Cloninger, the Sox pitching consultant who had forged a close relationship with Lowe before cancer deprived him of his regular gig as Sox pitching coach. "I believed in him, that's why."

Lowe's future with the Sox is by no means certain. At the stroke of midnight last night, he had the right to file for free agency. "Payday," one man in a Sox uniform said last night. "He just had himself a big payday. Other than [Carlos] Beltran, who is a more desirable free agent?"

Texas, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Atlanta,and here, in St. Louis, have all been mentioned as prospective destinations.

And what about coming back to Boston?

"He should," Diane Lowe, his mother said. "I'm prejudiced, but if they're smart, he will." 

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