10/12/2003 10:25 PM ET
Lowell makes his presence felt
Third baseman's two-run HR proved to be game-winner
Lowell's HR: 56K | 300K
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
MIAMI -- Mike Lowell has won both of the Marlins' games in this National League Championship Series with home runs, and it is hard to say which one was more clutch: coming off the bench in the 11th inning of Game 1 at Wrigley Field, or keeping the Marlins' season alive Sunday at Pro Player Stadium.
If you are a Marlins fan, then you don't have to decide. Just order both classic moments from MLB.com's Digital Download Service. For only $3.95 apiece, you can relive what Lowell has done in this series by owning both games right on your computer for posterity, and then judge for yourself whether Lowell is officially a home run hitter.
He still doesn't seem to think so.
"I've just never gotten to the plate really thinking I'm going to hit the ball out of the park," said the Marlins' third baseman, who gave Josh Beckett all the support he needed with a two-run shot off Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano in the fifth inning. "I just have this view of the real home run hitters, Sammy [Sosa] and [Jason] Giambi, and guys like that. I think they go to the plate thinking they can hit the ball out. I don't. I feel like I can hit the ball hard and really don't cut down my swing with two strikes. I don't feel I'm a big strikeout guy. I try to make good contact. This year has just been a little special for me in that they're going out of the park more often."
After hitting 32 homers in 2003 despite missing the final month with a broken hand, Lowell is going to have a hard time selling that one to the fantasy owners who will look for power hitters to draft next spring. Even though the Marlins made it to this series essentially without him, his power is again very much felt.
Lowell had one of three Marlin homers Sunday, along with Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Conine, and that means that both clubs now have combined for 19 long balls in this series. They already had the NLCS record, and now they have tied the LCS record. Three more back at Wrigley Field, and they will match the record of 22 in any Major League postseason series, set in the 1995 AL Division series by the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees, who had 11 apiece.
Lowell, who singled in the inning before his Game 5 blast, started the final game of the regular season but knew he was not truly ready. He then gave way in the NL Division Series against the Giants to rookie Miguel Cabrera at third base, and in Game 4 of the NLCS manager Jack McKeon finally made the move to get Lowell back into the starting lineup. Cabrera moved to right to replace slumping Juan Encarnacion, and the lineup remained the same Sunday. In fact, that lineup card was the first thing Lowell looked for when he got to the ballpark for Game 5 -- just to be sure.
"I'm glad [McKeon] showed the faith in me, especially since [Saturday] I don't think I had very solid at-bats," Lowell said. "He's been doing a lot of things right. I know he goes to church a lot and maybe he sent a blessing my way to have a good day today."
McKeon certainly looked even smarter after the Game 5 home run. It was Cabrera who scored ahead of Lowell on the 413-foot blast, which came on a 1-0 hanging slider by Zambrano with two out in front of 65,279 hopeful fans.
"There was never a moment when I had to get Mike Lowell back in the lineup," McKeon said. "Mike is a heck of a player, no question about it, and you're always looking for angles to get him back in there. At the time, we were running pretty good. And the guys you took out weren't doing the job. Most of the guys were doing the job, so it was tough to take somebody out.
"The last few games, I got in a rhythm that I'm more familiar with coming off the bench. I'm feeling good at the plate."
-- Mike Lowell
"The other day when I made a double-switch, I said, 'I've got to get Mike back in.' And [Juan] Encarnacion was struggling a little bit. I said, 'This is the perfect time to get Mike back in there and see if he doesn't add a little juice to our lineup.' Psychologically, the guy carried us a good portion of the [year]. Up until ... he got hurt, really, he was doing a heck of a job. But trying to give him enough time to get his timing back, and every player wants to play, even before they're ready, and we were trying to make sure he was darn ready before we gave him any extended time."
Lowell implied that he is close to 100 percent at-bat again. When asked if the hand still hurts at the plate, he explained, "No, think right at that four-week spot when I started taking batting practice, I noticed a big difference between live pitching and hitting off the tee. But I think it's been about six weeks now. I'd say for a good week I don't feel any difference. I really don't concentrate much on the hand at all, and I think that's a good thing. It's allowing me to focus on my swing. ... I notice a difference each day."
Zambrano certainly noticed. "That was a bad pitch," he said. "It was a slider and he hit it well. I was feeling good today and we'll get them on Tuesday."
Game 5 was another of those emotion-charged games by Zambrano, the kind baseball fans had grown accustomed to seeing from him before this series. But Lowell said those frequent emotion-charged displays by the pitcher did not bring any extra satisfaction as he rounded the bases following the home run. For one thing, it's not Lowell's style; for another thing, Lowell said, it is innocent enthusiasm by the Cub pitcher.
"They see the emotion that he has when he gets off the mound, but I don't think he shows anyone up," Lowell said. "I don't think after a strikeout he's staring guys down. He's an emotional guy. He's a young pitcher. He's got great stuff. And if that's what keeps him focused and keeps him going, I don't think we have a problem. I was satisfied just because it's a home run and we're in the playoffs. It doesn't really matter who's on the mound. I think it's a big moment when you have a big hit.
"Zambrano's going to be nails for a lot of years. He's got real good stuff. He doesn't really look like he puts too much effort into it. He's got a pretty smooth delivery, and the ball pops out of his hand pretty well."
The hand that so many Marlins fans have talked about since Aug. 30 is now working its magic again. Lowell has rescued his teammates in Game 1, and he has rescued his teammates from offseason oblivion in Game 5.
"It's just a matter of seeing pitches, and kind of the pinch-hit role I was in, it's tough because it's do-or-die at-bat," Lowell said. "The last few games, I got in a rhythm that I'm more familiar with coming off the bench. I'm feeling good at the plate."
Mark Newman is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.