Former Red Sox All-Star pitcher Derek Lowe was the winning pitcher in the 2004 series-clinching victories over the Anaheim Angels in the ALDS, the New York Yankees in the ALCS, and the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Lowe is the only pitcher in MLB history to be credited with the victory in three consecutive postseason series.
“That was a thrill,” Derek emphasized during a recent interview in his Fort Myers, FL, home. “We had all worked so hard as a team to bring the World Championship back to Boston. To contribute to that World Championship was a career highlight.”
When the 2004 postseason began, Lowe seemed an unlikely candidate for pitching glory. “I had a disappointing season and I was kind of buried in the bullpen for the playoffs. But as the playoffs went on I got my opportunities. It was a second chance and I’m just glad it all worked out.”
Derek Christopher Lowe was born and raised in Dearborn, MI, a suburb of Detroit with a population of about 100,000. He grew up in an athletic family and recalls, “Everyone in the family was involved in sports: uncles, aunts, cousins, everyone.
“I wouldn’t change a thing about the way I grew up,” Derek says. “I played whatever sport was in season: golf, soccer, basketball, and baseball. Playing and adapting to the different sports made me a better athlete.”
Lowe played professional baseball for over 20 years, but in high school his first love was basketball. “I had reached my full height (6’6”) in my senior year and I had a full basketball scholarship to Eastern Michigan, but the Mariners drafted me in the eighth round of the 1991 draft.
“I only won two games in high school and I was surprised they even drafted me,” Lowe laughs. “I knew the scouts had been watching me and they told me later they felt with my athleticism if I applied myself to baseball the way I had to basketball, I had a shot.”
THE ROAD TO THE MAJORS
Derek Lowe began his professional career in rookie ball in the Arizona league at age 18. “I was six-foot-six and 170 pounds and I was throwing 82 MPH. I look around and everyone else was throwing 95 MPH,” Derek still marvels.
“I had given myself three years to make it happen in baseball. I knew after three years, I would still be eligible to play college basketball so I didn’t feel any pressure.
Lowe spent seven seasons in the minor leagues. Did he ever get discouraged? “Not really,” he answers. “I was pitching well and I knew the Mariners considered me a prospect.’
Derek Lowe made his major league debut on April 26, 1997, and his fifth game on June 6th turned out to be a career highlight. “I got a start in Detroit against the Tigers and I must have had about 100 family members there. I pitched well and got my first big league win. That has to rank in my top five baseball memories,” he smiles.
On July 31, 1997, Derek and Jason Varitek were traded to the Red Sox. “Jason and I had been together since 1995 with the Port City (NC) Roosters,” Lowe says. “It really helped to go to a new organization with someone you knew,” he emphasizes.
Derek Lowe laughs when he remembers his conversation with Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette welcoming him to the team. “Dan said all the right things and then told me he was especially excited because the team needed ‘A big left-handed pitcher.’ I didn’t have the heart to tell him I am right-handed!
“When I told Jason he said, ‘That’s nothing. He thinks I’m a short, fat guy, who is a good catcher, but can’t hit.’ Jason and I start laughing when anybody talks about what a great move that was by the Red Sox.”
JACK OF ALL TRADES
Lowe began the 1998 season as a starter but at the end of June he was 0-7. “I won’t say I was in panic mode, but I certainly was concerned. To the Red Sox’ credit they moved me to the bullpen and I thrived there.”
Derek pitched so well from the bullpen that he was named the Red Sox closer in 2000. “I never really took to the closer role, even though I had some success there,” Derek says. “Then I blew so many saves in 2001 that they had to make me a starter in 2002.”
The 2002 season was a career-year for Derek Lowe. The sinker-ball specialist won 21 games, finished third in the Cy Young voting, and was named the starting pitcher for the AL in the All-Star game. And he pitched a no-hitter against TampaBay at Fenway on April 27.
“My no-hitter is right up there in my personal thrills,” Derek recalls. “You need some luck, or good fortune, and you need to remember the pressure is on the batter because you are pitching well and they aren’t having any success.”
Lowe won 17 games for the 2003 Red Sox, and he was a key contributor in the come-from-behind victory over Oakland in the ALDS. But what he remembers best is the heart-breaking loss to the Yankees in Game Seven of the ALCS.
“That was the quietest clubhouse I have ever been in. Nobody said a word,” he remembers. “Of course there wasn’t anything to say.”
THE 2004 REGULAR SEASON
The Boston Red Sox responded to the heartbreaking Game Seven ALCS loss to the Yankees by trading for Curt Schilling and signing Keith Foulke as their closer for 2004. Derek Lowe remembers a spirit of optimism and commitment in spring training.
“We knew Schilling and Foulke would help and we knew how close we had come in 2003,” he says. “We had a real nucleus of players who had been together for quite a while. We were all focused on finally winning that World Championship in 2004,” Derek recalls.
At the end of April the team was in first place in the East Division and Derek’s record was 3-1. But in May, Lowe went 1-4 and his ERA reached an unsightly 6.84.
“I was terrible,” Derek says. “I was headed into free agency and the Red Sox had made me an offer in spring training that we turned down,” he remembers. “I kept thinking that we had turned down a lot of money and I wanted to be perfect in every start.”
At the All-Star break Lowe had a 7-8 record with an ERA of 5.57. “It was my worst season in the majors,” Derek insists.
Derek Lowe’s pitching improved over the next two months and his 7-1 victory over the Oakland A’s on September 7 gave him his 14th victory. “But I really fell apart after that,” Derek says.
Before the postseason began, the Red Sox told Lowe that he was being sent to the bullpen for the playoffs. “When Tito told me I wasn’t going to start in the playoffs, I told him I was going home, that I wasn’t going to the bullpen. He said, ‘I understand how you feel, but why don’t you sleep on it?
“That was good advice,” Derek admits. “I probably would have left me off the roster I had pitched so poorly. But it was tough to go back to the bullpen,” he remembers.
The Red Sox seemed headed to an easy sweep over the Angels in the 2004 ALDS, after winning the first two games in Anaheim, and holding a 6-1 lead after six innings in Game Three at Fenway. But a Vladimir Guerrero grand slam tied the game at six runs, where it remained after nine innings.
Derek Lowe made his first appearance of the series when he was brought in with the score tied in the top of the tenth inning. “They bring me in, a couple of runners get on, but I get of it without a run. Then Papi comes up and bam: a walk-off home run and I’m the winning pitcher. Right place, right time for me,” Derek emphasizes.
In the ALCS, with the Red Sox on the cusp of an embarrassing four-game sweep, Derek Lowe was named the Red Sox starter for Game Four. How much pressure did Derek feel in this crucial spot? “I didn’t feel any pressure at all. Basically I was starting because there wasn’t anyone else.
“I felt it was my chance to make a contribution and put my regular season behind me,” he says. Lowe pitched credibly into the sixth inning when he was relieved by Mike Timlin, and the Red Sox won in the twelfth inning on another Big Papi walk-off home run.
After the Red Sox won Games Five and Six, Derek Lowe was named to start Game Seven in Yankee Stadium, one of the more important games in Red Sox history. “Again, I didn’t feel any pressure. I felt like I was given a second chance to help my team and salvage my season.
Although I remember I had a big lead in the fifth inning, and I was pitching well. The Yankees got one runner on and I hear warm up action in the bullpen. I thought, ‘Thanks for the vote of confidence!’”
Derek Lowe gave up only one run in six innings for the victory, as the Red Sox cruised to a 10-3 win and a trip to the World Series. Derek Lowe still remembers the post game celebration. “We had pulled off an amazing comeback and I had finally contributed. I was a long way from the bullpen and it was a lot different from Game Seven in 2003.”
What does Derek remember most about his start in Game Four of the World Series? “I remember my mother wanted to walk with me from the hotel to the park. We took the long way around so we weren’t in the middle of the crowd. It was nice.”
Lowe pitched flawlessly in Game Four at Busch Stadium II in St. Louis, holding the Cardinals to three hits over seven scoreless innings. When the Red Sox triumphed 3-0, Boston had its first World Championship in 86 years and Derek Lowe had his “hat-trick” of three playoff-clinching wins.
“It was such a great moment,” Derek says recalling the post-game celebration. “While the Series is going on you know where you’re headed, but you are so immersed you don’t appreciate it. Then you win it and you finally realize what you accomplished.”
Following the 2004 season Derek Lowe signed a four-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Lowe won 54 games for the Dodgers in four seasons and contributed to two postseason appearances. “I missed the intensity of the Boston fans but Dodger fans are good fans. I would say about 90% of the time when I was recognized off the field it was by Red Sox fans.”
In 2009, Derek signed a four-year contract with the Atlanta Braves and he averaged 34 starts per season with the Braves from 2009 to 2011. The Braves traded Lowe to the Indians for the 2012 season and when he was released by Cleveland in August he signed with the New York Yankees.
Lowe opened the 2013 season with the Texas Rangers and he was released by the team on May 23 after appearing in nine games. “It was time,” Derek concedes. “I had a nice 17-year run in the big leagues. I had accomplished everything I had set out to do and more. I had absolutely no regrets,” he emphasizes.
DEREK LOWE TODAY
Derek Lowe has called Fort Myers, FL, home for 17 years. He and his wife Carolyn Hughes spend most of the year in their lovely Fort Myers home and they summer in Derek’s native Michigan. Derek has three children from his prior marriage: son Tanner, who is age 10, daughter Taylor who is 14, and his step-son Philip, age 25.
“Taylor is into ballet, but Tanner likes sports,” Derek says. “I took Tanner with me when I got to throw out the first pitch in Game Two of the World Series and he had a blast.
The 40 year-old Lowe is currently enjoying time with his family after the grind of a 17-year MLB career. He has also filled in capably doing color commentary on NESN with Don Orsillo last fall and this spring.
What does Derek Lowe remember best about his time in Boston? “I think about the intensity of the Red Sox fans. And I think especially about the duck boat parade. That’s a memory that will last forever.
“I want to thank Red Sox fans for their patience with me. I had my ups and downs but I always knew they cared. When people ask me who I played for I always say ‘Boston.’ Not just because of our World Championship but because of the passion of the fans.”