Boston's Lowell proves best days not behind him

The Baltimore Sun

BOSTON-- --It took about two years, but Mike Lowell has re-established himself as a marquee third baseman, and last night put himself in great position to win his second World Series ring, which isn't bad for a guy the Florida Marlins couldn't give away during the 2005 season.

How do we know this?

Because Lowell was offered to the Orioles that year as an add-on to a deal for front-line starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, but the front office was not willing to assume Lowell's big salary and the risk that Burnett would become a free agent at the end of the year.

This is not meant to be a gratuitous shot at the Orioles for another instance in which they might have outsmarted themselves. There are probably too many of those to recount anyway. It's just a little additional context after Lowell scored one run and drove in the other in the Red Sox' 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies in Game 2 of the 103rd World Series at Fenway Park.

The Orioles could have traded Larry Bigbie, Jorge Julio and Hayden Penn for Burnett and Lowell and blunted criticism that they did nothing substantial in 2005 to upgrade the one Orioles team in the past decade that had a real chance to compete for the American League East title, but there was too much uncertainly surrounding both Marlins players for Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

The abortive Orioles trade is only offered up here as proof of where Lowell was at that low point in his career. He had been one of the cornerstones of the Marlins team that won the world title in 2001 and had averaged 95 RBIs in his first five full major league seasons, but when his numbers sagged in 2005, the word spread among big league scouts that his best days were behind him.

That is why Lowell is totally at peace with the fact that he got to Boston in November 2005 as a contract dump in the deal that sent Josh Beckett from the Marlins to the Red Sox.

"I was a throw-in in the deal," he said yesterday. "They needed Josh Beckett. They needed to get a top right-handed pitcher, and I don't think the Red Sox after the '05 season were like: 'Lowell has to be in that deal for us to take Beckett.'

"I'm sure that's not the way they were going, but I appreciate the fact that there were people in the organization that knew me. [Owner] John Henry knew me as a person and as a player when he owned the Marlins, and that had some effect. I didn't feel any worse as a player."

Quite the contrary. Lowell knew he was jumping from a team that had some tough years ahead to a franchise that expects to win every year, and has been willing to gamble some big dollars to do it. The Red Sox assumed the remainder of his contract, and they have not regretted it.

Lowell delivered solid but unspectacular numbers last year, then woke up at the plate this season to drive in a team-leading 120 runs and play a big role as the Red Sox unseated the rival Yankees at the top of the AL East standings.

"I was very happy with especially the RBIs this year," he said.

Lowell batted behind big-time run producers Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, and delivered the best all-around offensive performance of his career.

Manager Terry Francona thinks it's the logical result of the way Lowell goes about his business. He is, by all accounts, the consummate professional ballplayer.

"I agree with that," Francona said. "That's the best way to sum up Mike Lowell. He gives you everything he has every day. If he's 0-for-4, he wants to make a play at third base. You try to give him a day off, he wants to fight you. That's the way he is. He plays the game, and he gives you everything he has."

Two years after being written off by a lot of people around baseball, Lowell has re-emerged as a premier player at just the right time. He becomes eligible for free agency after this World Series, but he doesn't want to speculate on his future just yet.

"I'd rather not," he said. "I'm really focused on the World Series. I think the offseason is the offseason. I'll tackle that when it comes."

Whether he remains with the Red Sox or goes out onto the open market, it will be nice to be wanted.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on most Saturdays and Sundays.

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