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LOWE AND BEHOLD, RETRIBUTION APPEARS

Derek Lowe was the forgotten man in the Boston Red Sox's postseason rotation. Pushed aside into a long-relief role and headed for free agency, Lowe's 0-5 finish to the regular season seemed an inglorious way to end an eight-year stint in Boston.

Now, no matter what path his career takes, Lowe will be forever remembered for one night in Yankee Stadium.

"Games like this can make or break your career," Lowe said after tossing six one-hit innings in Boston's 10-3 ALCS-clinching win over the New York Yankees. "I know a lot of people in Boston have been talking about this whole free agency thing and keep saying, 'Is this going to be your last game?' Luckily, it's not going to be."

Lowe went 14-12 this season but posted a career-worst 5.42 earned run average. Still, it's easy to overlook the fact he's won 52 games the last three years -- more than any other pitcher in the game except Anaheim's Bartolo Colon (53).

Lowe has had a big postseason. He won Game Three of the AL Division Series against Anaheim in relief and kept the Sox afloat in Game Four of the ALCS by throwing 5 1/3 strong innings. His work in the ALCS was sweet retribution for the 14-4 beating the Yankees put on him Sept. 18 in New York, when he gave up seven runs in 1-plus innings.

"It was a personal challenge for me to see if I could come back into this stadium after the disaster I had in September," Lowe said. "You try to personally see if you can pitch a better game."

Lowe needed just 69 pitches to get through his six innings. He struck out three, walked one and got 12 groundball outs.

"Derek just didn't make any mistakes," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "He was tremendous."

The only threat the Yankees got against Lowe was in the third, after Derek Jeter's RBI single put runners at first and second. But Lowe got Alex Rodriguez on a weak comebacker and induced Gary Sheffield to ground to third to end the threat.

"The third inning for me was the biggest inning," Lowe said. "I was fortunate tonight to have a good change-up, and I got over half my outs on them. I felt like I could keep throwing it until they made an adjustment, and it worked."

The defeat left the Yankees with the dubious distinction of joining hockey's 1942 Detroit Red Wings and 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins as the only franchises in major team sports to blow a 3-0 lead. There have been 140 3-0 leads in hockey and 26 in baseball. A 3-0 lead has has been held 73 times but has never been blown in the NBA.

The Yankees had not lost the final two games of a seven-game set at home since 1926, when Cardinals Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander came out of the bullpen to wrap up the title after winning in Game Six. Babe Ruth was thrown out trying to steal second base for the final out of the series.

The Yankees were 81-5 during the regular season when they led after seven innings. Then they dropped two affairs on back-to-back days in Fenway to allow the Boston comeback to get rolling.

Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui finished the series 14 for 34 with 10 RBIs. He tied the LCS record for runs (nine) and set marks for hits (14), extra-base hits (nine) and doubles (six).

Yankees first baseman John Olerud played despite being ruled out of the series prior to Game Six by manager Joe Torre due to a bruised instep. Olerud pinch-hit for starter Tony Clark, was 0 for 1 and played an inning at first base before being pinch-hit for by Ruben Sierra.

Pedro Martinez's one inning of relief was his first trip out of the bullpen since Game Five of the 1999 Division Series at Cleveland. That was the night he threw six no-hit innings to spark a 12-8 victory that capped Boston's comeback from an 0-2 deficit. . . . The Red Sox made just one error in the series, by left fielder Manny Ramirez in Game Four. . . . The New York Daily News' front-page headline Wednesday was "Seven Help Us." But the New York Post earned the day's creativity award for its cover, superimposing a black-and-white picture of Ruth over a color shot of the Yankee Stadium fans. The headline: "PUT ME IN. Yanks need Babe's Curse in Game Seven." . . . The Red Sox are 5-5 in Game Seven showdowns while the Yankees are 6-7. . . . Francona said he was on the road and did not watch Game Seven of last year's ALCS between the teams. He was the bench coach in Oakland last year, and the A's lost three straight to the Red Sox in the Division Series after winning the first two games. "I was driving home (to suburban Philadelphia) miserable because Boston had beaten us."
e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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