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New Lowe for Rays

RED SOX 10, RAYS 0: Derek Lowe pitches first Fenway no-hitter in 37 years, "embarrassing'' Tampa Bay.

photo
[AP photo]
Derek Lowe celebrates after the Rays' Jason Tyner grounded out to second base.
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 28, 2002


BOSTON -- They started around the third or fourth inning, figuring they needed any help they could get. As each batter stepped up, the Rays talked more and more about Boston pitcher Derek Lowe and the white zero under the H on the top line of the Fenway Park scoreboard.

"You're trying anything you can do to jinx him," Brent Abernathy said. "You know how the saying is that you don't say anything to a pitcher about a no-hitter? Well, we're in the dugout, "Somebody tell this guy he's got a no-hitter. Somebody bust up the no-hitter.' We were just trying to mention it as much as possible."

As the game went on, as hitter after hitter trudged back to the Rays dugout, as the frustration mounted and the desperation grew, the conversation turned livelier.

"We were trying to get the baseball gods to work for us," Toby Hall said. "But they weren't listening today."

Or maybe they just couldn't hear over the raucous cheers coming from the old ballpark. Lowe, who had some karma of his own working, finished what he started, completing the no-hitter that made a brutal 10-0 Rays defeat hurt even more. It was the first no-hitter against the Rays, the first at Fenway since 1965.

"It's bad," Steve Cox said. "It's really embarrassing. ... You really don't want a no-hitter thrown against you. That means no one in the clubhouse got a hit. And that's not a good feeling."

The combination wasn't good for the Rays from the start. Lowe, a powerful 6-foot-6 former closer, always had done well against the Rays and had started this season strong. The Rays were the worst-hitting road team in the majors, don't play well in the cold (55 degrees at first pitch) and were barely 15 hours removed from a paltry four-hit effort. When Lowe set down the first six, with only Randy Winn's drive to center leaving the infield, it didn't seem that unusual. When Brent Abernathy walked on a 3-1 pitch to open the third, there was no way to know he would be the only Ray to reach base safely.

"You never envision that," Abernathy said. "But after that at-bat I knew it was going to be a long day, simply because he had unbelievable movement on his sinker today. All I saw that at-bat were five sinkers, and it was ridiculous how much he had it moving."

Lowe, though, was hardly impressed. He went up to the clubhouse after the inning to work in front of a mirror with pitching coach Tony Cloninger.

"Mechanically, I felt terrible," Lowe said. "It's a game of adjustments, and you've got to keep making them. As the game went on, you get in a good rhythm, a good flow, and once you get the mechanics out of your head and just worry about making pitches, that's when good things happen."

As the game went on, the rest of the Red Sox tried their best to help. Manager Grady Little made sure to stand in the same spot in the dugout. Catcher Jason Varitek stopped talking to Lowe. Other teammates ignored him. Pedro Martinez said a prayer. New owner John Henry refused to stand for the final inning since he'd been seated the first eight.

Lowe, though, said he barely noticed any of the superstitious activity.

"I'm just like a goofball," he said. "I just go out there and pitch."

That was enough against the Rays, who couldn't make anything happen. Of 28 batters, 13 grounded out and six struck out. Winn's ball carried to deep left-center, but the wind kept it from reaching the wall and Rickey Henderson made a routine catch. Cox had probably the hardest hit ball, a liner down the rightfield line in the fourth that Trot Nixon caught on the full run.

"You know a guy's on top of his game when there's that few balls hit solidly," Abernathy said.

"He kept everyone off balance," Hall said. "He had a power sinker, he had a changeup, he had a curve or slider or whatever, he might have even thrown a damn knuckleball, I don't know."

With the game out of hand after Boston made quick work of rookie Delvin James and took a 7-0 lead in the third, all 32,837 fans on the crisp, sun-splashed afternoon were pulling for Lowe and were on their feet in full roar when he came out, after a long Boston eighth, for the final inning.

"You figure someone's going to get a hit," Hall said. "Law of averages."

The first batter was Russ Johnson, who took a strike then hit a soft liner to second. Next was rookie Felix Escalona, who swung and missed at a breaking ball then hit a slider into shallow left-center that Henderson ran down. "I was kind of scared," Varitek said of Escalona's at-bat. "But once that happened I had a good feeling about the next at-bat."

Lowe still wasn't sure.

"I'm such a huge golf guy, and I (was thinking) of Tiger Woods at the Masters where he says, "Finish the deal.' You've got to finish it. That's what I kept telling myself," Lowe said. "You've got eight innings, 82/3 is good, but no one remembers 82/3, you know? ... You've got to be able to finish it."

Jason Tyner, who made the first out nearly 21/2 hours earlier, was the 28th and final batter Lowe would face. "I knew from about the seventh inning I'd be the last guy if no one got a hit," Tyner said. "I went up there expecting to get a hit."

Tyner quickly got down 0-2, took a ball high and outside, then hit a routine grounder to second. Just like that, with his 98th pitch, Lowe had done it. He swung his fist through the air and soon was mobbed by his teammates.

"I don't know if it could get any better," Lowe said.

"Maybe when you sit back and watch the game tomorrow or in the offseason and see how it unfolded, but right now they just took your hat and shoes to go to the Hall of Fame. As a kid you never think you're going to get in there."


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