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T.J. SIMERS

Dodgers hope Lowe will be Mr. October

September 27, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

SAN FRANCISCO -- Derek Lowe!

It's that simple -- if the Dodgers are to ever get past Jose Lima and win two playoff games -- let alone a series for the first time in 20 years -- it starts with Lowe.

The Dodgers haven't announced it yet, but Lowe will start the Wednesday playoff opener on the road, which right now looks as if it will be Chicago, and probably return on three days rest to pitch Game 4 Sunday at Dodger Stadium.

And as the ultra-competitive Lowe will tell everyone once it's official: "Bring it on."

Lowe lives for this kind of pressure, sweating profusely as he pitches as if sitting under a bright light and being grilled by a pair of detectives, but most of the time refusing to break.

He's already been there too, getting the final postseason win against the Angels, the Yankees and then the Cardinals in the World Series for the Red Sox.

"It's why you play -- you want to pitch in big games," Lowe said. "That's why people pick places to go -- to get these chances. If you pitch in those games, you want to keep doing it."

So why did Lowe sign with the Dodgers four years ago?

And will he return next year?

Lowe, the Dodgers' most consistent pitcher the last five weeks, will be a free agent after collecting $37 million from the Dodgers, including $10 million this season.

It's a foregone conclusion around here that Lowe, who is represented by agent Scott Boras, will be pitching elsewhere next season, replaced by CC Sabathia, pitching now in Milwaukee.

Detroit would be a good guess where a Michigan-raised Lowe might land.

But before leaving, Lowe's sinker and ability to go deep into a game give the Dodgers the best chance of posting some lasting memories -- especially against the Cubs.

The Cubs will have the edge in most head-to-head matchups, but the great neutralizer can be a five-game series and outstanding starting pitching.

"When you get to this level, it's not about individuals," Lowe said, "it's how do you find a way to win."

Sure enough, but in this case the formula is Lowe and more Lowe, already pitching 14 innings against the Cubs this season and going 1-0 with a 1.93 earned-run average.

But it's more than that. Lowe is a battler, talking, yelling and swearing at himself on the mound. In between starts, he goes to the bullpen and practices throwing without a ball and with his eyes closed.

"Pitching is all about feeling, and making adjustments," he said, and what a lift it would be for the Dodgers if Lowe could beat the Cubs with his eyes closed.

When things don't go well, and there was a stretch of six miserable games earlier, he's tougher on himself than Page 2 -- sometimes talking about the home runs he has given up and wondering if they have yet to come down.

"This is a game when you must quickly forget what went wrong," he said. "You've got about 10 seconds between pitches. Sometimes you'll see me just look up like I'm in la-la land, but it's my way of letting it go and moving on."

His record has hovered around the .500 mark ever since joining the Dodgers, but any regular follower of the team knows he hasn't always gotten great run support.

"Doesn't matter," he said. "My job is to keep us in the game. I was something like 14-12 with a 5.90-something earned-run average a few years back. Did I pitch good because I was 14-12? I gave up an average of six runs a game; that wasn't pitching well."

He's pitching well now, and if the Dodgers are going to think upset, they need someone who can go into Chicago in that zoo-like atmosphere without giving it a thought.

Now if he were a power pitcher, Lowe would already be getting more attention, and so would the Dodgers. But "a lot of ground balls are boring," said Lowe, who also pitches as if he has early dinner reservations.

"I remind myself all the time to work fast because if I'm relying on guys to catch the ball, I can't be strolling around the mound pitch after pitch, putting everyone to sleep," he says.

Lowe tuned up for his playoff assignment Friday night with three innings and 33 pitches against the Giants.

In the next few days he'll continue his routine of throwing the ball from one end of the stadium to the other after catching, and in some cases, diving for fly balls before everyone else has arrived at the park.

"The secret to this game is throwing the same way on Oct. 28 that you're throwing on April 1," said Lowe, who has never spent a day on the disabled list, a rarity in today's baseball.

"I've just found something that works for me, as crazy as it is."

Crazy as it is, the Dodgers might've just found something that works for them too, short of bringing Lima back.

JOE TORRE thought he'd treat himself to a manicure and pedicure in San Francisco after the Dodgers' celebration in L.A. a night earlier.

But a few minutes after he had sat down, the manicurist became concerned, asking Torre if he was all right, and if he had any circulation problems.

Soaked with champagne the night before, the dye from his blue shoes had turned his feet blue.

--

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.

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