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Bob Ryan

You can't put a value on what Lowell has done

Red Sox 11, Athletics 6. Seventeen Boston hits. Fun for all on a nice, hot, late September evening. The magic number is down to 2. It could all be over tonight.

Manny? Of course, you want to know about Manny Ramírez. Tremendous night: 3 for 3, plus a walk. What's not to like?

The Kid. Who doesn't love The Kid? Dustin Pedroia went 3 for 5. He scored four runs. He had a leadoff walk in the third and scored a run. He had a one-out double in the fourth and scored a run. He broke a 5-5 tie with a leadoff homer down the line in the sixth. He had a leadoff double in the seventh and scored a run. He was a complete, major, absolute pain in the butt to the A's all night long. Can't say enough about The Kid.

Papi? Ooo, baby. David Ortiz had a rope of a single to right. Papi then hit The Wall twice in his final two at-bats. Shades of '03, you know?

"A great sign," said manager Terry Francona. "We all love when he hits those long home runs, but when hitters hit the ball the other way and get rewarded, that is a real good sign. When David hits that wall, it kind of puts the other team in a little bit of a bind."

And then there was Mr. Red Sox MVP.

Well, he is, isn't he? Has anyone been more consistent, more reliable, and more, yes, valuable to the Red Sox cause this year than Mike Lowell? Help me out here. It's not possible anyone has been more important to the day-in, day-out Red Sox cause in the year 2007 than Mike Lowell. Is it?

"He plays every day and his production has been so consistent," said Francona. "Just plays every day and he has great at-bats."

You had to figure that the way Lowell's season has been going, he'd be making a little club history sooner or later. Well, it's happened. With his five runs batted in last night, Lowell raised his total to 116, and that means he is the Red Sox third base RBI record-holder. Move over, Butch Hobson, who had that fairly amazin' 112-RBI season back in 1977. And it really was amazing because Butch spent the whole season batting eighth. When he wasn't batting ninth.

Lowell has done it batting sixth, fifth, and, since Manny came up with the infamous oblique pull/tear/whatever at the end of August, fourth. This may not come as a major shock, but be advised that Mike Lowell rather likes batting cleanup.

"I love it," he said. "Even when [Jacoby] Ellsbury was leading off and Pedroia was batting second, I had plenty of opportunities. It's a great spot. It seems that when you're batting fifth or sixth, you're up there with two outs and men on more often."

A man could get used to it, you know? But Lowell is renting, not buying.

"I wouldn't mind staying there," he said with a smile. "But 24's got a little bit of a hold on that spot."

In case you haven't been paying attention, the skipper has brought Manny back in the 2-spot, hoping to get him an additional at-bat during the course of an evening. This won't continue much longer, and we all know it won't be the case when the playoffs commence next week. Ramírez will be back home in the fourth spot and Lowell will, in all likelihood, be hitting sixth. The Red Sox are simply determined that J.D. Drew, who is actually showing signs of having an honest-to-goodness offensive pulse of late, will be the fifth hitter of their dreams. And J.D. hitting fifth is OK with Lowell, who is all about the team, in case you didn't know.

"[Drew] can give us a big lift in the postseason," Lowell declared. "He allows us to have great balance in the lineup in the left-right sense."

Maybe so, but the higher Mike Lowell hits, the happier fans will be, especially in home games. Lowell has mastered the art of hitting at Fenway Park. He and The Wall have become buddies, with Lowell ripping a line single to left last night to produce his fourth and fifth RBIs.

After making an out to end the first inning, he came up with the bases loaded in the third, the Red Sox trailing, 1-0. In what could only be termed a "professional" at-bat, he deftly poked a Joe Blanton offering to right field to bring home Pedroia and Manny.

"In those situations," Lowell explained, "sometimes you have to take what the pitcher gives you. In my experience with Joe Blanton, he's not going to give in. He's got good stuff. I'm a pull hitter, but if he's going to keep going away, why not go the other way yourself? He gave me the pitch to hit to right field, so why not take it?"

Lowell came up again with men in scoring position in the fourth. This time he got a gift, when his soft chopper to the right side was perfectly placed to bring home Ramírez from third. Much to Lowell's surprise, he beat the thing out for a bonus hit, in so doing coming down a bit awkwardly on the bag.

"A little tweak of the ankle," he reported. "Nothing to get alarmed about. It's not going to affect my speed."

This being one of those nights, Lowell came up in the sixth with men on second and third (Manny walk, Papi double off The Wall). This time, he had a more Lowell-like hit, that aforementioned bullet off The Wall. And he had yet another chance to drive in runs in the seventh. This time, there were men on second and third (Brandon Moss single, another Papi double off The Wall) and none out. Oakland manager Bob Geren ordered the infield in, and Lowell grounded to short.

"Psychologically, you don't want to do anything different in those situations," Lowell said, "but I prefer man on third with less than two outs to the infield in."

People were reasonably satisfied last year when Lowell had 20 homers and 80 runs batted in. You know Francona would have been quite satisfied with a year similar to 2006. Nobody saw a career year coming, especially after Lowell fizzled out significantly in the second half of last season. But a career year it is, and with Papi off to that slow start and Manny never really being Manny at the plate for any length of time, Lowell has truly carried the offense. And you're always happy when the ball is hit his way. That hasn't changed.

This is the point where people generally start talking about Lowell's contract situation, which, simply put, is that he will be a free agent at the end of the season, and it is an open question whether the team will lay a big-bucks/long-term contract on a guy who will be 34 in February.

But let's table that one, shall we? Let's continue to savor the quiet professionalism of Mike Lowell.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

Audio THE RED SOX I KNOW: Mike Lowell

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