Int. Filthy Brooklyn Apartment- A Summer Day, 2002
It is approximately one thousand degrees in a bug-ridden apartment in Crown Heights. MATT, 23, a short, skinny kid drenched in sweat, is taunting his roommate PAUL, 25, about baseball. Paul wears a Yankees cap to hide the tiny horns on his head which betray his true identity as the prince of darkness.
Did you see who is starting the All-Star Game?
Yeah, some schmo from the Red Sox.
Yeah, Derek Schmo! He just threw a no-hitter!
Yeah, some schmo.
Sound FX- RIM SHOT
For that season, Derek Lowe was always Derek Schmo around our place. It was the kind of derogatory nickname that conveyed as much respect as derision, and it was kind of perfect . Lowe wasn't Pedro Martinez. He didn't dominate opponents. If strike outs are fascist, he was the Winston Churchill of baseball, fighting against their tyranny with absolute resolve. He lived and died with ground ball outs, posting the second highest ground ball rate of any pitcher in the last twenty years. He didn't seem like a pitcher you would have to worry about facing, but he was. On days when Lowe was pitching, I'd be sure to ask Paul who was pitching for the Red Sox just to hear him answer with disdain, "some schmo" or "that schmo," and I would smile. As it would turn out, that would be the best season of Derek Lowe's career. Long live Derek Schmo.
That ridiculous nickname was the first thing that popped into my head when I heard Lowe was retiring. It is certainly not a fitting tribute to the man, but memory is a funny thing. A seventeen year career worth of baseball highlights is occasionally preempted by a bad pun thanks to the strange wiring of synapses (and, in my case, an unfortunate proclivity for puns).
With that silliness out of the way, the second thing I thought of was Lowe's performance in the final game of the 2003 ALDS. I'm sure many fans' minds jump to the 2004 ALCS, where his heroics forever altered our perception of the franchise, but my mind goes to '03. That year, the Red Sox were still the same "cursed" team they had been throughout my childhood. I didn't think they would win the World Series. Twenty-four years of fandom had taught me not to think that way. Ever.
The Red Sox were playing the "Moneyball" Athletics in the Division Series and the first game was a tried-and-true Red Sox heartbreaker. Derek Lowe was forced into relief service and took the loss in the eleventh inning after Byung-Hyun Kim and Alan Embree combined to blow a one-run lead in the 8th. Lowe's control faltered and three walks and a bunt hit resulted in the winning run scoring without a ball ever leaving the infield. The Red Sox then lost Game Two in a more forgettable manner with Tim Wakefield giving up five runs early and Barry Zito shutting down the Red Sox lineup.
Lowe returned to the mound to for Game Three and pitched a gem, going seven innings and allowing just one run on six hits and two walks despite getting just two Ks. It was vintage Schmo. Unfortunately, Ted Lilly was just as good and for the second time in three games, the two team went to extra innings. The Red Sox were the ones taking the game in the eleventh this time, though, with Trot Nixon delivering a walk-off home run against Rich Harden.
Boston managed another incredible comeback win in Game Four to set the stage for Pedro Martinez and one final game for the season. Like every game in this series, this one was a grudge match. Pedro dominated the early innings but the Athletics chipped away, getting three runs against the most dominant pitcher in the game before he gave up the ball in the eighth. The bullpen held the lead into the ninth and Scott Williamson was brought in to close it out. Except, Scott Williamson couldn't close it out. He couldn't find the plate. He walked Scott Hatteberg on five pitches and quickly fell behind Jose Guillen and walked him on seven. Grady Little called for Derek Lowe.
Lowe got the first out on sacrifice bunt, but that put the tying run at third and the winning run at second. There was no room for ground balls here. This was no place for that old Derek Schmo democracy.
As a closer from 1999 to 2001 Lowe had dabbled in strikeout-based fascism. His K/9 rate out of the bullpen even darted up into the eights in 2001. As a reliever, he could put a little more on his fastball and go to his breaking ball a little bit more, but he still wasn't exactly dominant. The Red Sox needed some dominance here. First up, Lowe faced Adam Melhuse and got to 2-2 as the pinch-hitter fouled off two tough pitches. His fifth pitch was a perfect paint job for a called strike. Now, a ground out would be enough. Lowe was careful against Chris Singleton and ended up walking him to loaded the bases. To that point, he had thrown eleven pitches and he had still not gotten a swinging strike. Terrence Long stepped.
As I remember it, Lowe pitched with a furious sense of purpose in that at-bat. He got a called strike with the first pitch and just missed with a second pitch. Long fouled off the third pitch, putting himself behind 1-2. With the 2003 season on the line, Derek Lowe then unleashed the nastiest pitch he ever threw. It was his bread-and-butter pitch, the two-seam, sinking fastball that got him so many ground ball outs, but this one was different. It started on route to Terrance Long's elbow and broke back toward the plate and dipped down. Long scooted back to avoid being hit, but the ball had changed course and it caught a solid two inches of the plate a called strike three. The Red Sox win.
It was on to the ALCS. Derek Lowe was throwing impossible pitches and suddenly I was believing in impossible things. That is it was. That is how they used to get you. Some schmo suddenly would throw something completely unhittable and suddenly you were hooked again.
I was no longer living with Paul in Brooklyn by that point and I never caught his reaction to Lowe's unhittable final pitch. The next season Derek Lowe struggled badly during the regular season in front of a defense as porous a luffa then returned from exile in the pen to give us one of the greatest pitching performances in Red Sox history to complete the 2004 Red Sox ALCS comeback. Somewhere around that time, I forgot about our whole Derek Schmo bit. Yankees fans certainly weren't pretending to not remember his name anymore.
On the day that Derek Lowe calls it quits though, that bad joke came back to me and it made me smile again. he probably deserves a better tribute, but memories are funny things. Lowe had a great career and he gave Boston some of its greatest sports memories between 1997 and 2004. After leaving the Red Sox, he remained a solid above-average starter for four seasons with the Dodgers before hitting the wall in his late-thirties as a member of the Braves. He played in 17 big league seasons and finished his career with an ERA seven percent better than league average. Not bad for some schmo.