© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
LOS ANGELES -- All those years in Red Sox Nation had Derek Lowe ideally prepared to face the Angels on Friday night.
"You get killed pitching scared to American League teams," he said. "Especially being part of a potent Boston team, pitchers that had success came right at them. AL offenses feast on guys who pitch cautiously, so I knew I had to come out aggressively. I had a good game plan, and I executed it."
Enough so that Lowe struck out a career-high 11 over seven innings as the Dodgers reclaimed sole possession of first place in the National League West by edging the Angels, 2-1, on Luis Gonzalez's two-run single in the sixth inning off Ervin Santana.
"He couldn't have been much better," manager Grady Little said of Lowe. "His stuff was electric. We were fortunate to score enough runs so he could get a win."
Lowe has allowed five earned runs in three Interleague series starts this year, although this was the first victory. Lowe already has three complete-game losses this year, so it wasn't surprising that he again received precious little offensive support, this time in former teammate Bill Mueller's first day on the job as hitting coach.
"I was kind of worried for Mueller," said Gonzalez. "[Santana] had a no-hitter going until the fifth. There wasn't a lot of offense going."
But the Dodgers created just enough runs against an Angels team that swept them in Anaheim last month. It started with leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal taking a page from girls softball and perfectly executing a slap hit, putting his feet in motion as he tapped the ball to shortstop and beat Orlando Cabrera's throw to first base.
"I work on that, and it's something Merv Rettenmund taught me when I was with Atlanta," said Furcal. "If a pitcher is throwing me away, I can handle it. If I get it between the third baseman and the pitcher, the shortstop can't throw me out."
Juan Pierre, after fouling off a sacrifice bunt attempt, stroked a single to left. Nomar Garciaparra hit a sinking liner that right fielder Vladimir Guerrero nearly lost in the lights, his hesitation allowing Furcal to tag and barely make it to third. A key to the game was Jeff Kent getting hit on the arm with a 1-2 fastball to load the bases and move Pierre into scoring position. Gonzalez followed with a two-run single over Cabrera's head.
"The key was the top two guys getting on base and becoming a nuisance for the pitcher," said Gonzalez, who has nine RBIs in the seven games on the homestand.
The Angels, who had won nine of 12 coming in, answered with a run the Dodgers could have prevented. Guerrero led off with a fly in the right-field corner. After a long and circuitous run, Matt Kemp was unable to reel in the ball and it bounced over the wall for a double. One out later, Casey Kotchman singled home Guerrero. But Lowe got Garrett Anderson on a fly to center and he struck out Howie Kendrick.
The Dodgers turned it over to the bullpen. Jonathan Broxton struck out two in an easy eighth, but Takashi Saito had to work for his 19th save, allowing a pair of two-out infield singles before Anderson bounced out, giving the Dodgers a four-game win streak after sweeping the Mets.
"That's our strength, getting to those guys with a lead and they've been money for us all year," said Gonzalez.
Lowe had a self-deprecating explanation for the strikeouts by a sinkerball pitcher.
"It's all luck," he said. "I don't ever try to strike anybody out. My goal is to get every out on ground balls. If they swing and miss, maybe I'm tricking them."
However, Lowe agreed that his sinker has been effective lately (3-1, 1.75 ERA in last five starts) and was particularly nasty Friday night. One possible explanation for his recent success (seven of nine quality starts) is eliminating between-starts bullpen sessions.
"I never really felt like I got a lot out of them, and sometimes when you're pitching well in games, you can get yourself into a funk in between," he said. "So I just stopped them and it seems to be working."
Was his decision influenced by another pitcher who skips such practice work?
"Uh, yeah, Pedro [Martinez]," he said.
Told that he hadn't been a teammate of Martinez in three years, Lowe said:
"OK, it took me awhile."