Derek Lowe morphs from Braves’ albatross to their key

Derek Lowe had a lot to celebrate when the Braves won the wild card, starting with his own turnaround.

Derek Lowe celebrated the Braves' wild-card berth and his own turnaround. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

SAN FRANCISCO – The implausibility of the Braves making it back to the postseason despite a cartoon-like series of medical pitfalls and a lineup seemingly written in wet sand – Look out! Wave! – is dwarfed by only this development: Derek Lowe has gone from a $60 million mistake to this team’s possible key.

Mistake might be a slight overstatement. Lowe hasn’t been awful. But when a pitcher is given free-agent dollars that scream, “Ace,” and then goes 15-10 with a 4.67 ERA, there’s going to be criticism.

There also are going to be trade talks. Or as general manager Frank Wren said of this past winter in his best non-denial denial: “We were in the mode that we wanted to explore every possibility.”

The best trade the Braves never made? It sounds strange, but consider this: The Braves are not playing their first playoff game since 2005 Thursday night against San Francisco without Lowe. They don’t fall over the finish line and land in a wild-card nirvana if he is not going 5-0 in September with a ridiculous series of starts – totals: 29 strikeouts, three walks, 1.17 ERA in 30 1/3 innings – that didn’t remotely resemble any previous portion of his Atlanta employment.

In July and August, Lowe was 2-6 with a 4.52 ERA in 11 starts.

In September, he was sprinkled with pixie dust and morphed into Whitey Ford.

“The way September went was the way you kind of hoped and envisioned you’d be pitching every month,” Lowe said Wednesday.

Some of Lowe’s problems were physical. He has a bone chip in his right elbow that had been bothering him for six weeks. Finally, after a start against Florida on Aug. 29, during which it took Lowe 23 pitches to record an out and he allowed five runs in three innings, he knew he couldn’t continue. So he got a pain-killing injection in his elbow and missed a start.

But some of the issues clearly were mental.

Wren, when asked if he believed Lowe struggled trying to live up to the four-year, $60 million contract, said: “I don’t think so. He has signed big contracts before. But it’s like anything else. You come into a new situation, and sometimes it can snowball on you. I just think when he came back, he kind of got a fresh start.”

None of Lowe’s wins down the stretch came against premium competition. The opponents: Pittsburgh, Washington, New York, Washington, Florida. But the 5-1 win over the Marlins, during which he allowed one run and struck out nine in 5 2/3 innings Sept. 29, was particularly impressive because he was coming off three days’ rest.

The turnaround also led to a drop in Wren’s Tylenol consumption. He has been flogged for the signings of Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami. (Alas, the beatings over Kawakami continue.)

Wren again: “I just think that over the course of this season and especially the last month, Derek’s kind of found himself. He’s turned back into the Derek Lowe we knew for so many years, and we felt he had the ability to beat anyone. He’s got that old knack back.”

If pressure from the contract got to Lowe, he’s not going to say. He says his mental and physical approach never has changed. He says “Others look at that break I had as a turning point, but I don’t see it that way.” And then he talked about being given counsel from pitching coach Roger McDowell, going into the game against the Nationals with a different game plan and getting on a roll when it worked.

“This game is about confidence,” he said. “It just steamrolled in the right direction.”

He’s on a nice postseason roll, as well. When he was with the Red Sox in 2004, Lowe started the seventh game of the ALCS against the Yankees — and won, allowing one run and one hit in six innings. He then started Game 4 of the World Series against St. Louis — and won, throwing seven scoreless innings. In his past six postseason starts, he is 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA.

“The biggest thing in the playoffs,” he said, “is how quick can you control your emotions.”

A month ago, those emotions were somewhere else. In the Braves’ big picture, so was Derek Lowe.

♦♦♦

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

102 comments Add your comment

JSS

October 6th, 2010
9:45 pm

Send your wife a tin of Snookies cookie from San Francisco. The best hidden treat in all of California…

A lot of ya’ll owe Lowe an apology… Remember June?

Michael

October 6th, 2010
9:46 pm

First? Don’t fail us now Lowe.

Godfrey

October 6th, 2010
9:55 pm

Bobby Cox

October 6th, 2010
9:56 pm

Are you going to the game Schultz? I hope so.

Sonny D

October 6th, 2010
9:58 pm

Make that Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, rather than ‘03. I had forgotten that until the ESPN “Idiots” program ran last night. I remembered that Damon hit a slam off Vazquez, but I had forgotten Lowe had started that game for the Red Sox. I’d love to see pitch that well in SF, like he’s been doing lately. Good story!

Hit A Single

October 6th, 2010
10:00 pm

Go Braves! With our starting pitching I feel really good about our opportunity. We have got to play good defense and make sure we don’t take too many good pitches and get ourselves into holes we can’t get out of. Braves in 5! Braves upset Phillies in 6 and go on to beat Jeff Franceour and the Rangers in the World Series. It doesn’t hurt to dream and sometimes they come true.

Braves Fan in Baltimore

October 6th, 2010
10:02 pm

I move to Baltimore from Atlanta and I miss the Braves. So I can’t wait to watch the Braves on TBS. I hate the Orioles!

Hit A Single

October 6th, 2010
10:09 pm

Braves Fan in Baltimore – I love the Braves but I was also a big Orioles fan growing up. The Oriole teams of the late 60’s and early 70’s do not get enough credit for what they accomplished. Both Robinsons, Boog Powell, Paul Blair, Davey Johnson, Mark Belanger, Don Bumbry, Elrod Hendricks, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, and of course one of the best managers in history, Earl Weaver. Bobby Cox and Earl Weaver are alot alike. Both faught for their players and expected them to play the game the way it should be played.

5150 P.O.A.D

October 6th, 2010
10:16 pm

the O’s? I thought that was the Jim Palmers plus are few other juys with bats!

Ken Stallings

October 6th, 2010
10:23 pm

Never mind this! The baseball story of the night and maybe the year is that Roy Halladay pitches a no-hitter in his very first post-season appearance!

WOW!!!!

Mickey Mantle

October 6th, 2010
10:25 pm

Better watch out for all the he/shes out on the left coast.

Mr Charlie

October 6th, 2010
10:28 pm

Lowe is a pro, he make adjustments. How many times have you seen him look done, only to come back with a stellar start, and visa versa. He is also a big game pitcher, however, so the 60 mil is dependent on getting him to a big game. There are few pitchers I would rather have going tomorrow night. A true pro.

Mr Charlie

October 6th, 2010
10:31 pm

I love this team. If they go 3 and out, I will still love this team.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ajc sports editor and Jacob Pomrenke, Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: Derek Lowe morphs from Braves’ albatross to their key http://bit.ly/9u8TgP [...]

Najeh Davenpoop

October 6th, 2010
10:34 pm

Let’s hope Lowe keeps it up.

In other news, why are Joe Simpson and John Smoltz assigned to series that don’t involve the Braves?

Three Balls

October 6th, 2010
10:34 pm

I didn’t know Derek Lowe has three balls. That explains a lot.

JSS

October 6th, 2010
10:46 pm

My goodness, Kim Z, take your acid reflux meds… You have bile on your mouth, and in your heart too!

Jeff Schultz

October 6th, 2010
10:58 pm

JSS — My wife has me! She doesn’t presents! (Maybe a little sumpin’ sumpin’ from Ghiradelli)

Jeff Schultz

October 6th, 2010
10:58 pm

Bobby Cox — Yes sir.

Home of the Braves

October 6th, 2010
11:08 pm

The picture at the top of the blog isn’t actually from when Lowe had been showered with champagne or beer. That was just how much he sweat during the celebration.

kaminari

October 6th, 2010
11:11 pm

Last time I was at the park there, it had a different name from the one now, Barry jacked two bombs against us. But that park is beautiful, what an experience it must be to play there. I hope Lowe is jacked up & ready to pitch. This is the biggest game of his career. I hope he doesn’t blow it. This is his chance to prove to all the naysayers that he’s worth every stinking penny of that contract.

Go BRAVES!!

JSS

October 6th, 2010
11:18 pm

They make a great Ghiradelli themed basket as well! My late darling kept me well hugged and kissed after I sent her one of those back in 96! They’ve been my go to ever since!

How many kayakers are in the cove with wetsuits tonight?

Professor Moriarty

October 6th, 2010
11:23 pm

Florida and Washington may not be premium competition, but they always play the Braves tough. And if I’m not mistaken, Washington won the season series with the Braves, so I’m impressed.

bwash21

October 6th, 2010
11:39 pm

Kaminari – Gm 1, 2010, of the NLDS is hardly the biggest game of Lowe’s career.

PMC

October 7th, 2010
12:13 am

Albatross to Phoenix. Very apropos in Atlanta.

Geaux Derrick Lowe.

PMC

October 7th, 2010
12:16 am

Some of it is a product of simply knowing how much money the man makes really.

The guy has really worked his tail off since he’s been here. I’m impressed at his coachability and willingness to change approaches at this stage in his career.

If he’s got his sinker working… he’s nasty.

The_Superhoo

October 7th, 2010
12:17 am

pretty sure D-Lowe threw more than 3 balls during the month of September….lol Think you mighta meant 3 walks?

PMC

October 7th, 2010
12:36 am

here’s hoping Mac hits a few in the water.

Dirty Dawg

October 7th, 2010
2:54 am

Suppose it’s way too much to expect the Braves to suddenly become the ‘27 Yankees, or more to the point, the ‘10 Phillies, and start hittin’ the ball all over the yard, but then one never knows what, and when, the Baseball Gods will smile down on you…so let’s go.

NCBRAVESFAN

October 7th, 2010
4:08 am

Cant sleep, is this game every going to start??

longtimefan

October 7th, 2010
7:01 am

Post season Braves baseball in October again. The Falcons winning. Crisp, cool mornings. It does’t get much better than this.

Gen Neyland

October 7th, 2010
7:47 am

May Lowe continue his late season, fine work tonight. May the line up give him many runs to work with. May the Braves keep their errors to zero. May all the stars align.

Tech Sucks

October 7th, 2010
8:12 am

He’s going to shut down the Gints tonight.

Breakfast Bytes, 10/7 | First Up

October 7th, 2010
8:13 am

[...] Derek Lowe’s pitching in September the Atlanta Braves wouldn’t be in the playoffs, writes Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. A playoff berth was precisely what Derek Lee had in mind when he agreed in August to be traded [...]

Tami

October 7th, 2010
8:16 am

What I think is so cool about this team is that they’re still rebuilding and were never meant to be in the postseason this year. So, now they’re flying well under everyone’s radar in terms of expectations of them in the playoffs. Good. I like the scrappy, irritating, spoilers they’re becoming, and could potentially just sneak up on everyone. When the dust settles, who knows? Maybe they’re facing the Goliath-like Phillies in the NLCS. But, remember: David beat Goliath. Heh-heh. OK, OK. I’m not delusional. The Braves could potentially get swept by the Phillies in the NLCS — if they make it that far. I’m just deliriously happy that they’re back in the postseason. And of note: The Braves of 1995 weren’t that much better than the 2010 Braves, and still won it all. I know…the ‘95 Braves had Glavine, Maddux & Smoltz. But, they weren’t hitting much (remind you of the ‘10 Braves at all? I would say so). All Glav needed was DJ’s homer and it was “lights out” after that.

All of this is somewhat negated, though, if Derek loses tonight — and badly. I hope, though, this scrappy bunch manages to win at least one in SF and sweep the Giants at home. GO BRAVES!

Jfreak13713

October 7th, 2010
8:37 am

The Giants don’t hit much better than the Braves so Lowe has a good chance of keeping the game close. On the road in the playoffs just keep it close for 6 or 7 innings and see what happens! I wouldn’t be surprised if Lowe is good not great but still giving Braves a chance late win?? Looking for 1 out of 2 games their and then back to Atlanta with Hudson! Good Luck Boys we are all pulling for you back home!

bob

October 7th, 2010
8:39 am

I remember watching the Braves and Amazing Mets in the playoffs at school. My son won’t remember this Braves playoffs because he will in bed during the games. So MLB I doubt he will grow up to be a baseball fan or spend money on the sport like I do.

Jeff R

October 7th, 2010
8:46 am

Lowe certainly earned his money in the September stretch. In fact, he was one of a few Braves who did earn their dough.

Daniel

October 7th, 2010
8:48 am

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We were rejected by AJ Burnett who signed with the Yankees and then we had to “overpay” for the older Ace. Go Lowe, get us a win!

DOCTOBER

October 7th, 2010
9:04 am

Good morning, Braves fans…did you happen to see the Phillies-Reds game last night?? To all of you experts who predicted a Reds sweep, hahahahaha!! Good call…now, be honest…you don’t really want to face the Phillies in the NLCS do you?? Derek Lowe? Tim Hudson? Please!! If the Braves are smart, they will fold in the NLDS just like they did down the stretch.

keith

October 7th, 2010
9:07 am

Great thing about being the underdog in the playoffs is that you have no expectations as a fan. But I actually like our matchup tonight and we have a good chance:

Lowe’s career numbers vs Giants (esp in their park) is impressive.

Lowe’s postseason numbers are solid.

Lincecum’s first start in the playoffs…ok, wait…last night was Hallday’s first time, too. Ok, maybe I should throw that one out.

We have hit Lincecum pretty well earlier in the year (think we scored 3 runs on him in 5 innings).

GO BRAVES! :)

keith

October 7th, 2010
9:08 am

E-6

October 7th, 2010
9:11 am

Just need one of two out west. Very similar teams – good pitching throughout but not many bats.

Dr. Phil

October 7th, 2010
9:17 am

We love this man!

coach joe

October 7th, 2010
9:33 am

win tonight.. get a split in San Fran and back to Atlanta to close it out.

Go Braves… Can’t wait.

Tech Sucks

October 7th, 2010
9:34 am

Michael and Godfrey fail at life. Must be Tech fans.

dean

October 7th, 2010
9:35 am

Bob @ 0839.
My dad took me to game 1. Only the second or third game we went to since they came down in ‘66. Even though the Braves lost, I got to see Hank Aaron hit a double and a home run. That’s something I’ll always cherish….right behind being called by a friend, on the afternoon of the game, who had an extra ticket to game 7 against the Pirates in ‘92. I drove 4 hours to get there. I was a day late getting back home. I almost got fired. It was AWESOME!

I’m with you on the late starts. They stink. I always told my kids if they wanted to hang for a late game, I didn’t want to hear any crap at wake up time. :)

Ted Striker

October 7th, 2010
9:42 am

Is that a picture of Lowe or is it one from Rothlisberger’s old Facebook page?

Btw, I’d take some Snookies. Or Ghiradelli. Or even a Frightened Rabbit or EELS t-shirt from a concert at The Fillmore. Just no stories about lap dancers named Trixie Delight.

rudy

October 7th, 2010
9:44 am

Dreaming of a World Series in ATL…………MMMMMMMMMMMM

keith

October 7th, 2010
9:52 am

LOL @ Ted Striker regarding Ben’s FB page.