Saturday, June 20, 2009

Much has changed since Lowe left

It's not as familiar for Derek Lowe as you might think.

Sure, the ballpark is the same. Many of the fans who will give him what's sure to be a spine-tingling standing ovation are the same.

But the locker room isn't the same. Lowe now has to dress in the smaller, cozier visitors' clubhouse on the third-base side -- a place he always took for granted when he had a regular locker in the home clubhouse on the first-base side.

"I've never been down here," he said. "I didn't even know where the visiting clubhouse was."

And the team isn't the same, either.

In fact, of the players who were regulars on the 2004 team with which Lowe won the World Series, only three remain: David Ortiz, Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield. (Kevin Youkilis had almost 250 at-bats in 2004 and was on the postseason roster, but he mostly rode the Pawtucket shuttle until 2006.)

"I texted (Varitek and Wakefield) this week," Lowe said. "Throughout the season, it's hard to keep in touch with everybody. They knew we were coming to town. It's not like you're asking to go to dinner because you're in town, have a reunion, what have you, but it's always good to catch up and wish them well. I still root for them just like I do the Dodgers. Just because you don't play for a team does't mean you can't root for them."

Lowe won't be able to spend too much basking in the affection of the Fenway Park crowd today. He's got work to do. He had a 3.44 ERA through his first 13 starts before being shelled at Baltimore on Sunday, allowing seven earned runs in 2 1/3 innings in a game his Braves lost by an 11-2 score.

But that doesn't mean he's not going to enjoy an opportunity to revisit one of the most memorable seasons of his career.

Lowe had a 5.42 ERA in his final season with the Red Sox but cemented his legend with a sensational postseason in which he had a 1.86 ERA and won all three series-clinching games. He capped his Red Sox career with seven shutout innings in Game 4 of the World Series in St. Louis before Bronson Arroyo, Alan Embree and Keith Foulke closed it out.

He's compiled a 3.63 ERA and 61 wins in the four-plus seasons since he left Boston, making him perhaps the most successful of the star players who have departed the Red Sox in recent years.

When he signed with Atlanta, he knew the Braves' natural interleague rival was the Red Sox and that he'd end up back at Fenway Park for the first time since he collected his World Series ring four years ago. He just didn't know if his turn in the rotation would come up this weekend.

"It didn't look like it would for a long time, but we ended up having two rainouts," he said. (The rainouts were May 17 and June 6, which shows you how long he's had this weekend circled on his calendar.) "I wasn't trying to manipulate the system to find a way to pitch here. With this offense in this park, you're probably better off trying to skip it."

But it worked out, and he'll get a chance tonight to pitch at Fenway Park for the first time since that magical summer five years ago.

"It's going to be an exciting night," he said. "There's no doubt about it."

No comments: