Lowell’s last hurrah is now
TORONTO — This is how it has to be.
As was the case last night, Mike Lowell needs to be more than just a fill-in for the Red Sox. He has to be a force, has to do all the things he did in his glory days with the team.
Is that too much to ask? For a guy with a cranky hip the easy answer is yes. But these are tough times and there have been many moments in his Sox career in which he’s come up with extraordinary performances.
Last night, Lowell broke a 5-5 tie in the eighth inning with a solo shot off Shawn Camp. The Sox added a run on Jed Lowrie’s RBI double and took a 7-5 win over the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.
Earlier in the game, Lowell knocked in Boston’s fourth run with a sacrifice fly.
With Kevin Youkilis gone for the season, Lowell has been given the first-base job. Of course, he’ll get a respite now and then. Youkilis has one of the best on-base percentages of this generation and is one of the best and most underrated players in baseball. And now he’s gone. Only a big finish from Lowell will truly dull the impact of such a crushing loss.
It has been somewhat baffling why the Sox haven’t added a lefthanded-hitting first baseman to complement Lowell, but perhaps the team believes it should give him a chance before it makes that move.
Lowell is grateful for the opportunity, and when asked whether he needs to sit at times, he said, “I don’t feel I need any time off. I know that Victor [Martinez] can’t catch every day and it’s logical and reasonable that he’s going to play first base on those days. But this turf here is as tough as any and I [still] want to stay out there. There’s not much time left.’’
He’s right. There are 48 games remaining. There is not a lot of time to try to capture either the American League East or a wild-card berth.
In addition to Lowell, the Sox got something from Lowrie (2 for 3, 2 RBIs) and Jacoby Ellsbury (2 for 4, RBI) last night, two players who have been ill or injured more than they’ve played this season.
The Sox are trying to settle on a good bullpen mix, and have not been afraid to use 22-year-old lefty Felix Doubront with Hideki Okajima out. Also, Manny Delcarmen has been improved lately. It was a bittersweet night for Doubront against the Jays; he got out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth but then served up a blast to the majors’ home run leader, Jose Bautista, to lead off the seventh, which tied it at 5.
Then Lowell stepped in in the eighth and delivered his homer.
Sure, he must feel as if management never wanted him and then it lucked out by keeping him when Youkilis went down. Lowell seems to be playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and smack in the middle of a wild-card race, that’s a good thing.
Lowell spoke last night about how he wants to prove people wrong, although he said he wasn’t referring to anyone in the clubhouse. Whatever his motivation, if he continues to perform like he did last night, he could help get Boston into the playoffs.
What an ending that would be for Lowell, for he knows his days in Boston are over after this season, and his career could very well come to an end as well.
“If I try to be Kevin Youkilis I’ll fail,’’ he said. “I need to be a solid bat in the order and produce like I can. Kevin is one of the five [most] elite hitters in the game over the last few years. I’d love to be that. I’d love to hit like that, but I just want to do what I can do and be a bat in the order that this team can depend on.’’
Lowell believes consistent playing time will bring his batting stroke to life.
He felt he proved he still could hit at Pawtucket during that stretch in which he went 11 for 22 and hit three homers in one game. Unfortunately, he sat for a few days while the Sox were trying to figure out what to do with him, but he said his at-bats in New York felt good and he was able to “square up some balls.’’ He thought he had four quality at-bats last night. The sac fly came oh-so-close to being another home run. He hit the ball hard when he made outs.
Lowell said he will play first, third, or be the designated hitter — he’ll do whatever the team needs on a given day. One can see the respect his teammates have for him, the excitement they feel when he does something to help the team. The pats on the back he received last night were over the top.
Lowell’s hip really can’t be saved. Resting for a day or two really doesn’t do much for him except at times make his hip stiffer than it already is.
The only thing he can help save now is the Red Sox’ season, if he can add to a legacy with the team that won’t soon be forgotten, no matter what.