DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Derek Lowe was driving Saturday from Fort Myers, Fla., to Daytona Beach to attend yesterday's Daytona 500 with his 14-year-old son, Phillip, when he heard the news. The Red Sox pitcher was on his cellphone talking with his agent, Scott Boras, when he learned the Yankees were in the process of acquiring Alex Rodriguez, the Rangers shortstop the Sox failed to land in the offseason after an on-again, off-again courtship.
"We were talking and all of a sudden he goes, `We may have put a little pressure on the Red Sox,' " said Lowe. "And I said, `Why?' and he said, `Because I just got A-Rod traded to the Yankees.' I was like the first one to know before it came out in public."
Lowe's reaction: "I just about swerved off the road."
Lowe and his son made it to Daytona, where they met up with Sox teammate Tim Wakefield and his wife, Stacy, for a VIP tour of the garage area at Daytona International Speedway yesterday morning. They hobnobbed with Nextel Cup driver Ricky Craven, NASCAR's No. 1 Red Sox fan, and Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, owner of the cars driven by Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte. They also toured Jeff Gordon's hauler, and posed for photographs with NASCAR chairman Brian Z. France and his father, Bill France Jr., and actor Ben Affleck, Hollywood's biggest Red Sox fan, who served as grand marshal.
Yet at every turn, all anyone wanted to discuss was A-Rod and the Yankees.
"The way I look at it, we had our chance to get him," Lowe said. "After all that, the Red Sox didn't get him and they did. In a way, you can't blame 'em for getting [A-Rod], but Aaron Boone got us again. He hits a home run in Game 7 [of the ALCS] and now he gets hurt [playing pickup basketball during the offseason] and the Yankees end up getting A-Rod.
"Playing in Boston, you expect them to do things, but to see what they've added this offseason is going to make it tough."
As if they needed any reminders, when Lowe and Wakefield posed for the photo with Bill France on the steps of a hauler that served as NASCAR's mobile headquarters, the NASCAR vice chairman turned to the Sox players and asked, "You gonna beat those Yankees?"
"Up until this A-Rod thing, I really would've thought the Yankees would be six games back by the middle of the year," said Affleck, who fawned over Lowe and Wakefield, leaping out of his director's chair during a news conference yesterday morning to hug both players when he spotted them.
"This changes things. It's frustrating. It's irritating and it's depressing. And it makes you constantly wonder, `What do we have to do?' " Yesterday Affleck's angst seemed to reflect that of Red Sox Nation, which bemoaned its luck after the Yankees pulled off the blockbuster deal for Rodriguez, reportedly dealing second baseman Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named.
The Red Sox now are faced with having to pitch to a Yankees lineup that includes A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Bernie Williams, and free agent signees Kenny Lofton and Gary Sheffield.
"Just putting A-Rod in that lineup is going to be so tough," Lowe said. "When he was at Texas, you just pitched around him and let the other guys try to hurt you. Now he's just another guy, if you can say that. Now they wedge him between Jeter, Sheffield, and Giambi, so who are you going to pitch at? Nobody."
Wakefield said he was confident the Red Sox lineup -- with Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Rodriguez, and Bill Mueller returning from last year's record-setters -- would be just as potent as the Yankees'.
"Obviously, they're trying to add some offense, but it's not like they were going to miss any offense because Soriano was a pretty good hitter," Wakefield said. "I still like our chances. We still got Nomar. We still got Manny. When they were talking about A-Rod coming to Boston -- I'm sure he's a nice guy and I'm sure he's a pretty good player, but I've never played with the guy. I know Nomar and he's a great teammate. It would be sad for us to lose him. Like I said, I've never played with A-Rod and I don't know what kind of teammate he is."
Until the huge development, it appeared the Red Sox had gained an upper hand against the Yankees by acquiring Curt Schilling for the rotation and signing closer Keith Foulke.
"We were definitely leading, but they caught us in the stretch," Lowe said. "[But] it's not over yet, because we're just starting."