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Lowe's set to wake up and smell the coffee

Maybe it's as simple as sticking to a comforting pregame routine, as Derek Lowe has done on the days he pitches at Fenway Park by starting off with a French vanilla iced coffee and a coffee roll from the Dunkin' Donuts near his home south of Boston.

Otherwise, it's hard to explain why Lowe has pitched so much better at home the last three years than he has on the road. The Sox' sinkerballer will carry the torch into Game 5 of the American League Championship Series this afternoon against Yankee lefthander David Wells after logging a 2.70 ERA over the last three years in the Fens compared with a 4.40 mark on the road. The disparity was never more pronounced than this year, when Lowe went 11-2 with a 3.21 ERA after his morning fix at Dunkin' Donuts in contrast to his 6-5 record with a 6.11 ERA away from home.

"I can't put my finger on it or I would translate it into road games," Lowe said. "I don't know what it is."

All the Sox know is they got a break when Game 3 was rained out Sunday, allowing Lowe to start the makeup game today on four days of rest rather than wait until his originally scheduled start in Game 6 tomorrow in the Bronx.

"We want the kid pitching at home," manager Grady Little said. "He's had a lot of success here this year. I think that's in black and white."

Lowe, too, made no secret to his bosses that he wanted to pitch in the Fens today rather than in Yankee Stadium tomorrow, though the importance of the game also motivated him. The Sox had a choice of going today with Lowe or John Burkett, who has not pitched since he helped win Game 4 of the Division Series at Fenway nine days ago.

"Lowe was very convincing to us [Sunday night] when we talked late in the evening," Little said. "He wanted that game here in Fenway Park."

Lowe took the loss in Game 2 of the ALCS last week in the Bronx when he allowed six runs on seven hits, three walks, and a hit batsman over 6 2/3 innings in a 6-2 defeat. Reliever Scott Sauerbeck did Lowe no favors by allowing both the runners he inherited in the seventh inning to score. Still, Lowe pitched far better at Fenway in Game 3 of the Division Series, allowing only one unearned run over seven innings in a 3-1 victory over the A's.

"I enjoy the challenge of trying to win in other people's ballparks," he said, "but there is something to be said about pitching at home, especially when you're in the playoffs with a crowd."

Today's start is shaping up as the biggest of Lowe's career, but he has prepped well for the moment with his experience in the 1998 and '99 playoffs as well as his postseason outings this year. Before he closed out the A's in dramatic fashion to clinch the Division Series, he helped the Sox dodge elimination in Game 3. Lowe is 0-2 with one save and a 3.31 ERA over 35 1/3 innings in 12 career postseason appearances.

"The biggest thing is, you can't get caught up in how big the game is," he said. "It could be very easy to go out there if you put too much pressure on yourself being like, `I have to pitch a good game,' because when you have that mind-set it doesn't work. Go out and pitch your game the best you can, and that's all you can really ask of yourself."

The Yankees, like most teams, are expected to stack their lineup with lefthanded hitters against Lowe, who has held righthanded hitters in his career to a .233 average while lefthanders have hit .266. Also, lefthanders hit 13 of the 17 home runs Lowe surrendered this year.

The Yankees have not fared badly against Lowe over the years. He is 6-7 with a 5.22 ERA in his career against the Bombers, and several Yankees have hit him pretty well, particularly Bernie Williams (.333), Jason Giambi (.312), and Derek Jeter (.306). Hideki Matsui has struggled the most among Yankee regulars against Lowe, going 1 for 13 (.077).

"He's a great pitcher," Yankee manager Joe Torre said. "You have to really exercise a lot of patience. He has that fastball that certainly looks like a strike when it starts, and then it just darts out of the strike zone. Warren Spahn taught me a long time ago, he said hitting is timing and a pitcher's job is to upset timing, and a guy like Derek can do that."

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