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Lowe and behold

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff June 15, 2009 09:30 AM

Josh Beckett will have to wait until Saturday to try and rebound from his worst outing in nearly two months, yesterday’s six-inning, seven-run stint in Philadelphia.

It wasn’t nearly as bad as his upcoming opponent’s day yesterday.

It’s going to be a fun day at Fenway Saturday, when Red Sox World Series hero Derek Lowe returns to his old stomping grounds with the Atlanta Braves, his first trip back to Fenway since picking up his ring on Opening Day in 2005.

He hasn’t pitched on the Fenway mound since Oct. 17, 2004, Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. I trust you don’t need a recap.

Three days later, Lowe pitched the Red Sox to a Game 7 win over New York, allowing one hit and one run over six innings of work.

Seven days after that, Game 4 in St. Louis.

But as rapidly as those memories are sure to flood back into Lowe’s mind upon his return to Boston, yesterday was one to forget, even if it reminded some of us all too well of some of Lowe’s epic Boston meltdowns of the past. Lowe lasted just 2 1/3 innings in an 11-6 loss to Baltimore, his shortest outing since his regular season finale in 2004, coincidentally also against the Orioles.

That game was simply a tune-up for the playoffs though, Lowe lifted by Terry Francona after allowing just one run. You want Lowe at his worst, go back one start when he gave up eight hits and five runs over 2 1/3 to the then-Devil Rays. Or, the infamous one-inning disaster against the Yankees mid-September that truly kicked off the debate over Lowe’s worth to the Red Sox come October.

He started the month in the bullpen. He ended it a Boston icon.

Lowe has had a fine season in Atlanta, his first with the Braves. Overall, he’s 7-4 with a 4.08 ERA, a number that jumped nearly a full run after his outing yesterday. Since leaving Boston, he has won 61 games, with the Dodgers and Braves. The only pitcher on the Sox staff who comes close to that total is Tim Wakefield, who has won 58 over the same time span.

But Lowe’s start won’t just be intriguing for all the history and memories that his appearance will spark, but the ones that could have been just to the south. If Lowe pitches well at Fenway, it will result in yet another pang of regret for the Yankees, who went for AJ Burnett in lieu of Lowe last offseason.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes:

The Yankees' decision after signing CC Sabathia was Lowe vs. A.J. Burnett. Many Yankees officials favored the dependability of Lowe. But the Yankees front office was concerned about having negotiations with Scott Boras drag out, and many executives adored that Burnett had a power arm that dominated Boston. Well, that theory has not held. In two starts against the Red Sox this season, Burnett has a 12.91 ERA. At this moment, Burnett's biggest contribution to the Yankees is shoving shaving cream into teammates' faces after walk-off wins. But it is the Yankees who have pie on their face.

Of course, there was talk in the offseason of Lowe returning to Boston, a deal that never materialized. It’s better that way. For as good as Lowe was that postseason, there’s really nothing he could do as an encore. His final regular season here was pedestrian for the most part, borderline disastrous hurtling towards the playoffs. But Lowe’s Red Sox career ended with him starting the two most pivotal franchise-changing games in club history.

That’s not a bad way to go out. And it’s not a bad way to return either, a bit of nostalgia for Sox fans, complete with the ability to thumb their collective noses at the Yankees, both for what was and what could have been.

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