Down, 2-0, in the first inning and, 4-0, after giving up a two-run homer to the Twins' Torii Hunter in the sixth last night at Fenway Park, Red Sox starting pitcher Derek Lowe said he was confident that Boston's hitters could still make him a winner.
The fact that they came up short in a 4-2 loss, said Lowe, doesn't change his opinion.
"I'd still take my chances," said Lowe, who since giving up seven runs and eight hits in a 9-4 loss to Baltimore May 31, had pitched seven shutout innings in each of his previous two starts and had an 0.95 earned run average in 19 innings before facing the Twins for the first time as a starter in Fenway Park.
Last night's performance wasn't as dominating as his whitewashings of Los Angeles at Fenway and Colorado at Coors Field, but Lowe, after getting touched for a pair of fielder's choice RBIs in the first inning, was in command until the sixth, when he admittedly threw poor pitches to Corey Koskie, who doubled to center off Johnny Damon's glove, and to Hunter, who had been 1 for 7 with no homers against Lowe.
"The 1-2 changeup to Koskie was nowhere near where we were trying to put it," said Lowe. "Then, in that situation, you have a man on second in a close game, you're trying to have the righthander [Hunter] hit a ground ball to the left side. We tried to throw the sinker inside, but he's very dangerous inside. You have to keep the ball down."
But the ball stayed up and soon found its way over the Green Monster, and, as Lowe put it, "I leave it up to a guy who likes the ball inside, you kind of see the results. But still, at that point, it was 4-0. I still felt good and tried to keep putting up zeros as long as I could."
Which for Lowe included three consecutive ground ball outs to end the sixth and three more an inning later.
"My job is to have them hit it on the ground," he said. "For the most part we kept the leadoff man off base. Minnesota doesn't strike out a lot and they put the ball in play, so it felt good. I wish I could feel that good every time out. Nights like this probably aren't going to happen very often."
Lowe's first inning was like trying to fix a slow leak: Cristian Guzman led off with a sharp single to center and Doug Mientkiewicz hit a seeing-eye grounder into right field. Former Red Sox prospect Lew Ford surprised Lowe and the Sox defense with a bunt single, and the bases were loaded.
"At that point you try to minimize the damage," said Lowe, who induced Koskie and Hunter to hit ground balls that weren't struck quite hard enough to turn into double plays. Two runs scored before Lowe struck out Jacque Jones to end the inning, his first of seven strikeouts. "You really didn't think the bunt was going to be the play they'd try."
Red Sox manager Terry Francona, like Lowe, wasn't that concerned about being down by a pair so quickly.
"He got some ground balls, which is exactly what he needs to do," said Francona. "I mean, you don't ever want to give up runs, but it's the first inning and he's getting ground balls and we always feel like we're gonna come back and score. If he's getting ground balls like that, we're gonna be OK more than we're not."