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Boston's Lowe Hits a High

Baseball: Former reliever pitches first no-hitter at Fenway Park since 1965 in 10-0 victory over Tampa Bay.

April 28, 2002|DAVID HEUSCHKEL | HARTFORD COURANT

BOSTON — Derek Lowe looked at his three starts in September last season as a beginning and nothing more. He knew there would be more work.

The physical part of the transformation from reliever to starter began over the winter as Lowe began a weightlifting program designed to build stamina.

The mental part was completed Saturday.

Lowe became the first to pitch a no-hitter at Fenway Park since 1965 in a 10-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The offensive support his teammates provided had little to do with the way Lowe made it look relatively easy.

Lowe threw 98 pitches and faced one batter over the minimum. He struck out six, walked one and got 13 groundball outs. Only five balls left the infield.

Perhaps the most difficult part for Lowe was sitting in the dugout in the eighth inning when the Red Sox sent eight men to the plate. All he could do was watch, wait and think about getting three more outs.

"It was hard," Lowe said. "Obviously, in a perfect world, you go 1-2-3 and run back out there. But the hitters don't care what's going on. They want to go out there and get RBIs, get hits."

The Devil Rays didn't come close to getting either. The Red Sox didn't make any spectacular defensive plays and there weren't any close calls on the bases.

"I think this crowd carried him his last two innings," Boston catcher Jason Varitek said. "He wasn't out of juice, but he had a very long wait in the eighth inning. I think if anything, that adrenaline rush kicked in and he was loose after two pitches. This crowd can do that to us."

Lowe was greeted with a loud ovation from 32,837 as he emerged from the dugout in the ninth, a stark contrast from the boos he heard last season when he trotted in from the bullpen.

"It gives you a feeling you don't want to have again," said Lowe, who was an All-Star closer in 2000 before losing the job last season. "I've had drastic years, from 2000 to 2001. You don't want that feeling where you get in a game and people are saying, 'Oh no, not this guy.' Especially in this town."

Lowe struck out the side in the sixth on 13 pitches. He needed fewer than 10 to retire the side in four other innings. It took eight in the ninth.

Lowe got Russ Johnson to hit a soft liner to second baseman Rey Sanchez for the first out. Sanchez initially took a step back, thinking the ball might go over his head.

"That one didn't scare me," Varitek said. "The next one scared me a little bit."

Felix Escalona lofted a fly ball to shallow left center that forced Rickey Henderson to make a running basket catch.

"It's tough," said Lowe, who had developed a blister. "I'm such a huge golf guy. I was thinking of Tiger Woods at the Masters, where he says, 'Finish the deal.' That's exactly what I kept telling myself."

Lowe threw a 2-and-2 changeup to Jason Tyner, who hit a grounder to the right side. Sanchez fielded it cleanly and threw to Jose Offerman at first. Lowe then made like Tiger, pumping his fist skyward as players came charging out of the dugout.

"It's almost surreal," Lowe said. "You don't even think it's you. I still don't think what I did I did, as crazy as that sounds. You still think it's happened to somebody else."

It nearly happened to Lowe in his first start at Baltimore. He took a no-hitter into the eighth and lost it on an infield hit by Tony Batista.

Lowe came closer to one in the minors with Tacoma, Seattle's triple-A affiliate. His bid ended when Edmonton's Jason McDonald led off the ninth with a single.

Lowe (4-1, 2.04 earned-run average) is the second Red Sox pitcher to pitch a no-hitter in as many years. Hideo Nomo pitched one last April in Baltimore, the first by a Red Sox pitcher since Dave Morehead's at Fenway in 1965.

"You've got a ground-ball pitcher in Derek, so anytime a ball could just go right through the infield," said Varitek, who said Lowe shook him off only once. "You have to have a lot of favorable things happen to you for a sinkerball, groundball guy like Derek to have one."

Said Red Sox pitching coach Tony Cloninger: "About the third or fourth inning he came up to the clubhouse and he was kind of dissatisfied with his mechanics. I just followed him up here and he was by the mirror working on mechanics a little bit. I said, 'Hey, don't worry about things. Just keep pitching the way you are. You're pitching a good game.' I didn't say anything about pitching a no-hitter."

Said Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez, who has yet to pitch a no-hitter: "I think he's got a chance to throw many more. He's that kind of a pitcher. You haven't seen anything yet."

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The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Co. newspaper.

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