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ON BASEBALL

The Lowe-down from new Dodger

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- He already has sat courtside to watch the Lakers and Clippers, played golf in a celebrity foursome in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, hobnobbed with his new boss, Frank McCourt, and bought a house in Beverly Hills ("I'm not sure where, except that it's three streets away from Rodeo Drive.").

"Did you know that on the street corners, you can buy star maps that show where the stars' homes are?" Derek Lowe said with a bemused smile. "I don't know if they really show where they live, but that's what they say."

If you didn't know any better, the view Tuesday morning could be deceptive. There was Lowe, playing catch alongside Trot Nixon in City of Palms Park, as much at home here as he had been the last seven springs, spent preparing for a new baseball season as a member of the Red Sox.

But Lowe plays for the Dodgers now, soon headed west for Chavez Ravine instead of north to Yawkey Way. Eric Gagne will be saving his games now, not Keith Foulke. No longer will he be throwing to Jason Varitek. His new catchers' names are David Ross and Paul Bako.

He was here Tuesday morning because his offseason home is nearby, and the Sox extended their former employee the courtesy of continuing his winter workouts here with physical therapist Chris Correnti, a handful of minor leaguers, and a few recent arrivals, like former teammate Nixon and pitchers Matt Mantei and Wade Miller, newcomers to the Sox staff.

If Lowe returns to the World Series next fall, it won't be because Curt Schilling's ankle is OK. "For us," Lowe said, employing that pronoun to refer to someone other than the Sox for the first time since Dan Duquette's franchise-shaking swap of Heathcliff Slocumb to Seattle for Lowe and Varitek in July 1997, "the big question is Brad Penny's health. If his shoulder is healthy, we can be a World Series team. His health will determine how far we go."

But Lowe, whose parting gifts to Boston were clinching victories in each of the three rounds of the playoffs that propelled the Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years -- an act of unprecedented largesse that was rewarded not with a new contract but a one-way ticket out of town, one that he had all but punched himself months before -- has not purged his thoughts of all things Red Sox.

"I'm not one of those guys who leaves and roots against his old team, sits in front of the TV and hopes they fail," he said. "I still have a lot of friends over here, and I don't believe in bitterness when you leave a place.

"We could sit here forever and talk about what really happened -- we could sit with Theo [Epstein] and talk about it -- but what makes it easier to leave is the fact we won the World Series. Your worst fear as a player is that they win after you leave. It must have killed Nomar [Garciaparra] to watch.

"But we did things nobody else has ever done. Setting records by coming back and winning eight in a row, winning the World Series. If you're going to leave, it's the perfect time to leave."

But Lowe remains puzzled by the Sox' other decisions, why he and Pedro Martinez and Orlando Cabrera are on the outside looking in, with the Sox electing to retain only David Ortiz and Varitek from their A-list of stars playing in their free agent years last season.

"From a player's standpoint, you have a team that went to Game 7 of the [American League Championship Series] in 2003, then won the World Series, you have the opportunity to bring back the same group of guys for four more years -- for me, that's something you'd want to do," he said. "But you see what happened this winter -- three of us gone -- what do you think will happen next year, when you've got Johnny Damon and Billy Mueller and Mike Timlin and Alan Embree and Kevin Millar and Tim Wakefield in the last year of their contracts?

"How many more changes will they make?"

Economics? The Sox last year pointed to the bottom line as the reason they couldn't keep everyone, but Lowe looks at the money the Sox spent on Edgar Renteria and Matt Clement and David Wells and Miller, and doesn't see it exactly as a case of the Sox clipping coupons.

Don't tell Lowe the Sox tried to re-sign Martinez. "If you wanted to sign Pedro Martinez," he said, "you get it done last year. They knew what he wanted. If you really wanted a guy of his stature, you get it done. They wanted Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke last year, they got it done. They make it easy for the player to take the deal.

"They wanted Varitek, and Jason wanted to come back. They weren't going to ham-and-egg Jason, do anything to tick him off."

Lowe was the last of the big-name free agent pitchers to sign, taking a four-year, $36 million deal from the Dodgers. Last spring, he turned down an offer from the Sox that, with incentives, would have brought him close to $27 million for three years. Dropped from the rotation in late September after an erratic summer turned even worse in his last three starts, Lowe was, in his view, "the 11th pitcher on the staff" when the playoffs began.

"If the Anaheim game doesn't go extra innings, I don't even get in," he said.

But even after back-to-back seasons in which his earned run average climbed to heights inconceivable when he was a 21-game winner with a 2.58 ERA in 2002 -- the record was 17-7, 4.47 ERA in '03, 14-12, 5.42 last season -- Lowe blithely disputes any suggestion that he would not have enjoyed a similar payday this winter without his dominant performance in October. After seeing what lesser lights such as Kris Benson, Jaret Wright, and Clement were getting, Lowe said, he said he expected to command the sums he did.

Why didn't the Sox want him back?

He shrugged. "This isn't Kansas City," he said, "where the team tells fans they don't have the money and the fans accept it. In Boston, finances aren't an issue, so they have to find other reasons. I wasn't here when [Roger] Clemens left, but at the end, they got on him about his record. I saw what happened with Mo Vaughn, they said a lot of negative things about him, and they did the same with Nomar and Pedro. In Boston, they have to come up with some reason why they're not signing you.

"Me, I've acted the same way the last seven years, but in the last three weeks, you heard all this stuff about me going out, me doing this and that. The stuff could have been nipped in the bud -- the front office could have put a stop to it, because it wasn't true, but it was good for them."

What won't be good for the Sox, Lowe said, is if they try to change the freewheeling way the team operated.

"I keep reading things where the front office says, `That image worked last year, but we're going to have to change it,' " Lowe said. "Why change it? Why change something that worked? Guys didn't break rules. There was nothing wrong with our image. We won.

"Our image fit so many guys on that club. You'll take away their personalities. They have that attitude where you check your egos at the door. You wear a funny outfit, you're going to hear about it. You do something on the basepaths, Tito [Francona] and Brad Mills are going to rag you about it.

"We even got to Curt, Millar used to rag on him all the time. His first seven starts or so, he'd be so serious, showing up at 2 o'clock with his uniform and spikes on already, guys would ride him nonstop, especially Millar. By August and September, it would be two hours before the game, and Schilling would be playing cards with the guys.

"Mike Myers, who played with Curt in Arizona, joined us, saw that, and said, `When did that start to happen? In Arizona, you couldn't even talk to him on the day of the game.'

"You know why we were able to come back against the Yankees? Other teams start panicking, start trying too hard. But this team wouldn't let guys try too hard. We were loosey-goosey and we just went out and played hard every night. And these guys are going to come back every bit as hungry. There's nothing like winning, nothing like that playoff intensity, and nobody wants to be the guy who holds them up from getting back."

There's a chance, Lowe figures, that he has pitched his last game in Fenway Park. The Dodgers visited Boston last summer in interleague play, and if the current rotation holds, they won't be back until 2010. Lowe will be 37 then.

"The biggest thing I remember from last October?" he said. "The parade. Riding on the bus, and it's raining and it must be only 50 degrees, and there's almost four million people there for us.

"That, and the last game in Yankee Stadium, and Tim Wakefield standing on the mound for 10 minutes after it was over, he and his wife and me and my wife, not wanting to leave because of what had happened the year before. He thought he had let us down. None of us thought that, but that was real emotional, seeing him crying and all.

"How do I want to be remembered in Boston? Two or three years from now, nobody will remember my numbers, but they will remember what I did in the playoffs. You want to be remembered as a guy who did good things in the playoffs. No one will remember Tom Brady's numbers, but they'll remember his three Super Bowls.

"There is a passion in Boston that is like no other place. If you can make the people there happy, you've done some pretty good things in your career."

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