Some qualities are irreplaceable
Red Sox fans never seemed as excited about management's offseason Plan A of signing first baseman Mark Teixeira, moving Kevin Youkilis to third, and sending Mike Lowell packing or using him as a part-timer.
Teixeira foiled the plan by signing an eight-year, $180 million deal with the Yankees, and the Red Sox kept Lowell.
Right now, they have to be glad they did.
Lowell might be six years older than Teixeira and no longer with that upside you're looking for. His surgically repaired hip has come along pretty nicely, though Lowell won't be racing Jacoby Ellsbury any time soon. But in this series Lowell has been double trouble for the Yankees, the team for which he started his major league career.
Friday night he made a tremendous diving stab of a hard liner by Nick Swisher with runners at first and second that saved runs in the top of the third. Yesterday he made a great play to start the game against Derek Jeter and then punished the Yankees for six RBIs with a three-run homer in the seventh and a bases-clearing double in the eighth in a 16-11 Sox win.
Is Teixeira the better player over the long haul? Of course. But for the present, and for the what he did in the past - Lowell was the 2007 World Series MVP - he has endeared himself to Red Sox Nation. He's a good guy who has proven to be one of the best defensive third basemen in the team's history as well as one of its top clutch players. To think, Lowell was the throw-in in the Josh Beckett deal with the Marlins in 2006 in which the Sox gave up Hanley Ramirez. Would you love to have Ramirez on the team now? Sure. But you likely wouldn't have the '07 championship.
Lowell knows the way it goes in major league baseball.
When he became a free agent after the '07 season he could have signed a more lucrative contract with the Phillies. If he had gone for the money he likely would have had another world championship ring, his third overall. But he elected to stay in Boston. His agents failed to negotiate a no-trade provision in his contract and therefore for all of his contributions, Lowell would have received a golden handshake had Boston been able to obtain Teixeira.
Hurt? You bet he was. He made his feelings clear about that in spring training while rehabbing a very serious injury. Yet he made sure the hurt didn't linger, and once the Teixeira deal fell through, he fell back into the team player he'd always been, as if nothing happened.
Asked about the offseason and whether he was thinking about it, he took the diplomatic road.
"Not anymore," he said. "That was something that happened in the offseason. I'm so happy where I am and the way we're playing. It doesn't even cross my mind."
How about satisfaction? Seeing Teixeira over on the other side. The guy who would have replaced you? Lowell didn't bite on that one, either.
"I don't really have this revenge factor inside of me," he said. "None of the guys on the team had anything to do with anything. I've always said how much I like playing here. I'm glad we're playing well as a team and we're contributing."
Manager Terry Francona felt his own awkwardness when he got the Lowell question, and he felt uncomfortable even answering it. The bottom line was he said he is happy Lowell is on the team.
The six RBIs were his most as a Red Sox, matching his high as a Marlin, June 3, 2003 vs. Oakland, and they were the most by a Sox third baseman since Bill Mueller smacked two grand slams and drove in nine against Texas on July 29, 2003.
"The way I started [two strikeouts and a fly out], it was a little extra satisfying finishing the way I did," he said. "Especially in a situation where they walk the guy [Jason Bay in the seventh] in front of you and you're able to come through, that's extra special."
Lowell felt the home run was bigger than the double because it put the Sox ahead, 12-10, after the Yankees had taken the lead in the top of the seventh. "In this game everything was going back and forth," he said. "It seemed like whoever was up last was going to win. Hadn't really had a good day, and then with one swing things changed pretty good."
But in the eighth, with only a 12-11 Sox lead in a game that seemed to have no end, Lowell sealed the deal. After Ellsbury reached on catcher's interference by Jorge Posada, stole second, and scored on Dustin Pedroia's single, Damaso Marte walked Kevin Youkilis intentionally. New pitcher David Robertson walked Jason Bay and Lowell came up with a double off the Wall, scoring all three runners.
After a long offseason of physical rehab and the emotional toll of knowing his team tried to replace him, Lowell's great day seemed to reinforce to anyone watching that he's still a pretty special player.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.