09/14/2002 8:55 pm ET
'Good things' happening to Lowe
Right-hander wins No. 20 on Saturday
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
BOSTON -- Derek Lowe was too humbled and too busy to be thinking about a 20-win season last winter. After a nightmarish 2001, when he became the most convenient target for the Fenway boo birds, Lowe decided to re-shape his body and his psyche.
After struggling as the closer most of last season, Lowe talked former Red Sox manager Joe Kerrigan into a September tryout in the starting rotation, the role for which he was groomed in the minor leagues. Lowe pitched well in all three starts and spent the winter conditioning his body and his mind into the shape of a starting pitcher.
Lowe's reward for those long winter days in the weight room paid off Saturday night at Fenway Park. In the Red Sox's 6-4 win, Lowe (20-7) mowed down the Orioles with seven strong innings, giving up two earned runs and striking out seven.
He became the 25th pitcher in Red Sox history to reach the 20-victory plateau, joining a most prestigious group containing names such as Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Lefty Grove, Luis Tiant, Dennis Eckersley, Roger Clemens and current Boston star Pedro Martinez.
Who could have predicted things would turn out this way for Lowe? He certainly wouldn't have.
The big right-hander, who has two more starts to help enhance his campaign for the AL Cy Young award, was asked what he was thinking when the season started.
"Ten [wins] would be good; 15 would be great," Lowe said. "The wins just kept adding up, and then you don't want to put a limit on how many you want to win."
The standards he now has for himself are startling, considering what the buzz was like during the spring.
Said Lowe: "Leaving Spring Training, people were wondering, 'Can he win 10 games? Is he going to be a third, fourth or fifth starter? Where does he fit in?' "
Turns out, Lowe fits perfectly alongside Martinez as a co-ace. The potential for this became evident to everybody on April 27, when Lowe threw a no-hitter against the Devil Rays at Fenway.
The teammate who knows Lowe best knew what could happen if the sinkerballer dedicated himself 100 percent to his craft.
"Twenty wins? I don't know," said Jason Varitek, who has caught Lowe for eight years, dating back to when they were in the Mariners' minor league system together. "But 15 to 20, yeah."
There will be inevitable talk about Lowe heading into next season, with one-year wonder speculation bound to be out there. But Varitek hardly thinks Lowe has maxed out. In fact, Varitek thinks Lowe is merely offering a glimpse of what is ahead.
"It's a great accomplishment for him," said Varitek. "But I look for him to be better. I don't think he's as polished as he can be."
Lowe spent last winter trying to get back on his feet; this offseason, he'll be striving for more.
Lowe is being careful not to get carried away by his magical 2002. He looks at the sustained brilliance of masters such as Martinez and Greg Maddux and strives to jump to that class. But he knows it will take years of tireless work to get there.
"To be in that class, it takes consistent years," Lowe said. "Maddux has won 15 [games] 10 years in a row. A lot of guys have had one good year and faded. Hopefully I won't be that type of guy. Hopefully I'll continue to get better. I'm not going to sit back and be lethargic the rest of the year, or for my career, because of one year. Nobody is going to put more pressure on me than myself. I'll work hard to try and do it again."
Varitek, who prods Lowe on pitching and non-pitching days, will be happy to hear that.
"I hope it's a starting point for him," said Varitek when asked about Lowe's work last offseason. "I hope he realizes that's what the majority of people in this clubhouse deal with year in and year out. I hope it's not something he takes for granted. I hope he goes out and prepares himself the same way physically."
But before another winter of punishment, Lowe has an exciting final two weeks coming up. In a perfect world, Lowe's and Martinez's accomplishments would have been enough to get the Red Sox into October. But with other areas of the team not up to par, the Red Sox are 8 1/2 games back in the Wild Card hunt with 15 to play.
Assuming there is no miracle finish, the Cy Young race will become a focal point, with Lowe, Martinez and Oakland's Barry Zito in a three-horse race.
Lowe isn't the type of individual who will try and fool you into thinking he isn't paying attention.
"I went to bed last night and Barry Zito had a no-hitter through six," Lowe said. "You try to put that out of your mind. But I want everybody to pitch well. I want Barry Zito to win the rest of his games, I want Pedro to win and hopefully I win mine so when the season is all done, it will be a close race. You do pay attention to those things. In these situations, you can only control one thing -- and that's how you do.
"You know, I'm not going to sit up here and pat myself on the back. But I think it stems from hard work, it really does. It just shows that if you work hard and believe in your ability, good things can happen."
And they have. More dramatically and often then even Lowe could have guessed.
Ian Browne, who covers the Red Sox for MLB.com, can be reached at Ian.Browne@mlb.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its