VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The exterior was a bit foreign, the deep blue set against white, the script writing across his chest, the No. 23 where there was once No. 32 (that number was taken, once and for all, by a lefty named Koufax).
Though recast in Dodger blue, the interior of the man was unmistakably the same. Still as breezy as a midwinter Florida afternoon, Dodger Derek Lowe bounced around the Red Sox clubhouse yesterday, before and after his first game against his ex-teammates. Before the 7-3 Sox win, in which Lowe took the loss, he met with Sox starter Bronson Arroyo to broker a deal.
"We told each other before the game we'd throw each other all fastballs," Lowe said.
He proceeded to allow three hits and two walks his first trip through the Sox order -- a lineup that featured only two regulars, Trot Nixon and David Ortiz, not to mention the pitcher.
Lowe went to 2-and-2 his first encounter with Arroyo, who stayed back long enough on the fifth pitch to bloop a ball toward shortstop Cesar Izturis. If Izturis had been 2 inches taller, or timed his jump better, he might have saved Lowe some grief.
"D-Lowe may hear about that one for a long time," Sox manager Terry Francona said of the base hit, which fell to the Holman Stadium grass the way a shuttlecock might in a game of badminton.
Lowe escaped the inning, and the two met on the infield.
According to Arroyo, Lowe said, "You'd better not throw me a breaking ball. If you do, I'm telling you right now, I'll shoot you after the game."
Lowe grounded out in his one plate appearance in the third, then was lifted when his spot in the order came due in the fifth. His final line: 5 innings, 6 hits, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts, 2 earned runs. Kevin Youkilis hit a two-run homer to right-center in the third, the only one Lowe has allowed in 17 innings this spring.
"In the beginning you're trying to have probably too much fun, kidding around, laughing," Lowe said. "It was fun. It was what you'd expect. Good crowd."
The crowd, 8,135 strong, was the sixth-largest in the 53-year history of Holman Stadium on the idyllic grounds of Dodgertown. No bigger crowd had filed through the turnstiles here since March 17, 1979, when 8,200 came to see the Dodgers and Yankees. But Lowe disagreed when asked if this was an emotional day.
"We're way beyond that," he said. "I saw Pedro [Martinez] 10 days ago. He's over it. And I'm over it. It's nice that both the guys who left are pitching Opening Day for their respective clubs. I think that says something about the guys they got rid of."
Yes, Lowe will get the ball Opening Day, a first in his career. Dodgers manager Jim Tracy, who missed yesterday's game to attend the funeral of his college baseball coach, recently tapped Lowe to pitch the April 5 game at San Francisco.
"It means a lot," Lowe said. "There's going to be a lot of emotion as far as the game goes. First start of the year, first start with a new team, first start against your biggest rival. That's three pretty big things for your first start."
Tracy has said he chose Lowe so Jeff Weaver would get the ball in the home opener, which Tracy deems the bigger reward. But Lowe's spring suggests that he might be the staff ace. In four starts, he's 1-1, with a 1.59 ERA (three earned runs in 17 IP). He hadn't allowed a homer in 14 1/3 innings until he left an 88-mile-per-hour, full-count fastball up to Youkilis.
"You can't get all that excited," Lowe said about his spring. "You pitch at home. You get the visiting team's lineup."
Three of his four starts have been here at Dodgertown. He opened on the road against Atlanta, and, facing the Braves' first-string lineup, recorded three perfect innings.
On Sunday, the Dodgers finalized a deal with the Mets for catcher Jason Phillips, who is expected to be the starter. This promises to be a challenge for Lowe, who had thrown to Jason Varitek dating back to 1995 in Double A Port City (N.C.).
"The one thing that Jason was so good at with me was knowing me as a pitcher, not stuffwise but temperament," Lowe said. "He knew when to kick me in the butt and kind of calm me down. Sometimes when you leave you've got to start thinking for yourself. You can't just rely 100 percent on Varitek.
"I'll probably shake them off more in spring training but as spring training goes on, as the season goes on, these guys get to know you better. My game isn't really that complicated to figure out."
Arroyo could testify to that. Having been tagged for that single in the second inning, Lowe went to the junk in the fourth inning.
"He came back and punched me out with a breaking ball," Arroyo said. "I said, `What are you doing, man? I thought you weren't throwing any breaking balls.' "
He laughed. There's no hostility.
"I miss that guy more than anybody on the team," Arroyo said. "My workout partner, every day. It was fun to come to the park. I loved hanging out with Derek."
After the game, the two shared a hug. Lowe ducked into the Sox clubhouse to see Nixon. Those two are among a handful of Sox personnel Lowe said he talks to regularly.
"I'm 100 percent over last year," Lowe said. "Our wives are still friends. Our kids are the same age. It's not like we're deceased and never going to see each other again. You stay in touch with the guys you like. And they have a lot of likable guys on the team."