Baseball has a funny way of finding heroes in the unlikeliest of places, sometimes at the bottom of the roster. There is, for example, Derek Lowe, now the cornerstone of Atlanta's pitching staff after signing with the Braves last winter.
Five years ago, Lowe was an afterthought, coming off a season in which he went 14-12 for the Boston Red Sox with a bloated 5.42 ERA after allowing 224 hits in 182 2/3 innings. As the Red Sox went into the postseason, Lowe was the low man on Boston's pitching totem pole.
"I was the 11th guy on the staff going in," he said. "I carried the gum bag and the ball bag every day."
Boston had burned four pitchers in Game 2 of the Division Series against the Anaheim Angels and six in Game 3. Left with few options, manager Terry Francona brought in his 11th man. Lowe would pitched the 10th inning of a 6-6 tie in Game 3.
"Terry had no choice," Lowe said. "It was me or a forfeit. I was the last man standing."
David Ortiz homered to give the Red Sox and Lowe, who pitched one scoreless inning, the Division Series clinching win.
"It was sheer luck," he said.
In the American League Championship Series, the Yankees swept the first three games, including a 19-8 romp in Game 3 when they sprayed 22 hits around Fenway Park against six Boston pitchers. With New York poised to clinch the pennant and the Red Sox in what seemed a hopeless situation, Lowe got the ball for Game 4.
"We had used everybody else the day before," he said.
Lowe pitched into the sixth inning, keeping Boston in the game. The Red Sox rallied in the ninth inning against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and won it in the 12th to stay alive. Boston won the next two games and now, feeling frisky, the Red Sox handed the ball to Lowe for Game 7.
"We got a big lead, and that made the job easier," he said. "That time, I had some say in the outcome."
Again, Lowe won and now it was on to the World Series against St. Louis. Boston, on a roll, won the first three games and Lowe was the starter in Game 4. He worked seven innings to complete a unique pitching trifecta, becoming the only man to be the winning pitcher in the Division Series clincher, the Championship Series clincher and the World Series clincher.
"The last one was special," Lowe said. "Winning eight consecutive playoff games -- that's something I'll never forget. I was a free agent. I knew I was leaving Boston. It was a good way to end my career there."
Lowe moved on to Los Angeles for four seasons with the Dodgers before joining the Braves this season. He brings with him a reputation for durability. Now in his 13th season, he has never been on the disabled list and also switched seamlessly between the bullpen and the starting rotation with the Red Sox.
He laughs off the debate about pitching specialists limiting innings and roles.
"It's not hard switching between the bullpen and starting," he said. "People make way too big a deal over that. If you can pitch, you can pitch in any role. You do what you have to do."
Lowe led the American League with 42 saves in 2000, but, when he struggled as Boston's closer the next season, he moved back into the starting rotation late in 2001 and, in 2002, responded with his best season, going 21-8 and pitching a no-hitter against Tampa Bay. He is one of just three pitchers -- John Smoltz and Dennis Eckersley are the others -- to have 20 wins in one season and 40 saves in another.
Then came the postseason sweep, the exclamation point of his career.
"Where else would you rather be?" Lowe said. "That's why you play. Why wouldn't you want to be out there? That's the greatest arena you can have."
Hal Bock is a freelancer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.