The Red Sox will play their first World Series game tonight since October 28, 2007. That night, the Red Sox beat the Colorado Rockies, 4-3, to sweep the series and win their second championship in four years. Mike Lowell homered in Game 4, capping a series in which he hit .353 and was named the World Series MVP. I caught up with Lowell, now an analyst in the MLB Network, last night to get his thoughts on these Red Sox and what they are facing in the Cardinals. I’ll have more from Lowell in the early editions of Thursday’s Globe.
1. Because this is a rematch of the 2004 World Series, there is a lot of attention being paid to the 2004 Red Sox team right now. But that 2007 team you played on was exceptional in its own right — you guys outscored your opponents by 210 runs that season and probably are a bit underrated in Red Sox history. Do you look at this current Sox team and see any similarities to the championship team you played on?
Lowell: “I think with the ’07 team and you can even go back to the ’04 team, there were really some big-name superstars. I mean, several of them. You’re talking David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez — obviously Pedro wasn’t there in ’07 — but you had those names. What I think sets this team apart is that while you have David and Dustin [Pedroia] is one of the elite second basemen, they’re more of a team that beats you down the line, you know? One night it could be [Shane] Victorino, the next night [Jarrod] Saltalamacchia, you’ve got Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli, a lot of guys that you have to pay attention to rather than a couple of guys where the pitcher might look at the lineup and say, ‘Let me get by David and Manny and then maybe I can take a deep breath.’ Here, they can keep that line moving, one great at-bat after another, and that puts a lot of pressure on opposing pitching staffs and defenses.”
2. The Red Sox are 6-0 with Jonny Gomes in the lineup this postseason. Yet Daniel Nava is a guy who hit .336 in the second half, has consistently high-quality at-bats from the left side, and played a significant role in their success this season. Is John Farrell, who basically admits that he’s going with Gomes partly on a hunch, doing the right thing here in how he’s distributing the playing time?
Lowell: “It’s tough to criticize John in that sense, and the playoffs are the one time where you can have a guy on a streak, or one guy who’s in there and you keep winning, and it’s really tough to say, guess what, we’re going to go away from that. What I will say about Jonny Gomes that I love, and this is the most underrated part of his game, is that he’s an excellent baserunner. You’ve seen it a couple of times, him going first to third or scoring from second on an out at first … he plays winning baseball, and I like that. He’s not the greatest defender, but he’s going to give you a good chance. He can push one out of the park, there are a lot of things he can do to help you win a game. Not that Nava can’t, but hey, this is a problem every manager would like to have. He’s got a righthanded hitter that he trusts implicitly, and a good switch-hitter in Nava who can have some real value off the bench when he’s not in the lineup. That’s going to be a big factor, especially in those games in St. Louis.”
3. Thoughts on Xander Bogaerts? Everyone is obviously impressed with his patience and poise. Does it remind you at all of Miguel Cabrera coming up as a 20-year-old with the ’03 Marlins? And as a former third baseman, what have you thought of his transition to a position he only began playing in Triple A this year?
Lowell: “I love him. Love him. By his face, he looks 20, if that, but the pitches he was laying off [against the Tigers] while facing literally the elite pitchers in the league, he plays he game like he’s been around 10 years. And it’s not a cockiness. It looks like a really cool confidence that he has, playing a premium position of shortstop. Even when they throw him at third, he does a good job. It’s harder than you think, to change positions like that. They say a ground ball is a ground ball, but it’s really not. I never played third until I signed a pro contract, and it took me two years, two legit years, to feel comfortable. Knowing the angles, playing the hops, and they’re basically throwing him in the fire over there. But that poise no matter what they ask him to do is impressive. It is something Miggy had when he came up. I compare it to when I was 20, I’m a sophomore in college, playing with an aluminum bat, nervous as heck about facing a ranked team. Maturity and baseball knowledge and baseball sense are way beyond his years.”
4. St. Louis has developed an extraordinary group of talented pitchers in a short time. The Marlins teams you played on came up with a lot of young arms — A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis, Brad Penny — but have you ever seen it to such an extreme? It seems like there’s another kid throwing 100 out of the Cardinals bullpen every other day.
Lowell: “What the Cardinals do is amazing. They turn out all these power arms, and yet it’s just not about velocity. There’s variance. You see a guy like [Michael] Wacha. A lot of guys can throw 97, 98 miles per hour, but the way he mixes his changeup, I tell you, he may be a rookie on paper, but by no means is he a rookie in terms of ability or execution. That goes for a lot of the young guys on that staff, [Carlos] Martinez, [Trevor] Rosenthal, and I think a lot of it comes back to having the utmost confidence in their catcher, Yadier Molina. And [manager Mike] Matheny being a former catcher, I’d love to be a fly on the wall in those meetings to see how they come about it. That learning curve goes quick. These guys have pitched in big games already and they’ve come through. You see Martinez at 100 [mph] and Rosenthal at a 100, and don’t sleep on [Joe] Kelly and [Shelby] Miller. It’s just like, wow, that future looks tremendous. It’s going to be interesting to see those young, talented arms against a smart veteran lineup with the Red Sox.”
5. The Cardinals’ Game 1 starter, Adam Wainwright, walked just 35 batters in the regular season. The Red Sox are renowned for their patience. Something has to give here, right? Should the Red Sox hitters alter their approach against a strike-thrower like Wainwright?
Lowell: “He’s definitely a challenge. Anytime someone has that pedigree, it’s going to be a challenge. But from my experience, I actually preferred guys who threw strikes rather than that effectively wild guy. A guy like an A.J. Burnett who can punch out 11 but walk seven, that makes it real tough. It’s going to come down to, ‘Can the Red Sox hitters wait for their pitch or take what Wainwright gives them?,’ because like you said, he’s not going to go up and be ball 1, ball 2, ball 3, 3-1, 3-2 and then we’ll see what happens. It’s probably going to be strike one, and the next one’s probably going to be a strike too. So that’s where the chess-match comes in. Can the Red Sox hitters take advantage of a guy that throws a lot of strikes? It’s a really interesting matchup. I don’t think it’s a bad one, necessarily. Veteran pitcher, veteran lineup. It’s one of those things, one of many things, that makes this series very intriguing.”