SERIES: Division Series, Game 3; Athletics lead, 2-0.
Derek Lowe will be carrying the suddenly dwindling hopes of long-suffering Boston fans to the mound at Fenway Park when the Red Sox try to climb out of an 0-2 hole in their first-round playoff series with the Oakland Athletics.
Making his task even tougher, he’ll be doing it on short rest.
Lowe was forced to come out of the bullpen Wednesday, only to absorb a tough loss in Boston’s 5-4, 12-inning Game 1 setback in Oakland. He threw 42 pitches, with the last one resulting in A’s catcher Ramon Hernandez’s dramatic game-winning bunt single.
The Red Sox were mastered by Oakland left-hander Barry Zito in Thursday’s 5-1 Game 2 loss, leaving Lowe to try to recover quickly and keep alive Boston’s hopes of capturing its first World Series title since 1918.
“There’s no sense of putting your head down and feeling sorry for yourselves, because it is what it is, you’re down 0-2,” Lowe said. “We are back home where we played extremely well all year. We have back-to-back games here. You have to look at it, you’re pretty much in a do-or-die situation. We understand that. I understand that.”
Boston went 53-28 at Fenway this year, and Lowe was a big part of that success. The veteran right-hander was 11-2 with a 3.21 ERA in Boston, while going just 6-5 with a 6.11 ERA on the road.
“I feel very comfortable pitching here,” Lowe said. “I have ever since I’ve been here. There’s a lot that goes into it. Offensively, we score a lot more runs here. There’s high grass in the infield, which helps me out. So there’s been a lot of things that have gone into that.
“This time of year, it doesn’t really matter where you’re pitching. I’m really looking forward to getting a start. I know I got a little taste of it a couple of days ago in relief.”
Lowe doesn’t feel that his relief outing Wednesday will in any way negatively affect his performance in Game 3.
“If anything it’s going to help, as crazy as that sounds,” he said. “My last start was last Thursday. I was looking at nine days of rest. For a starting pitcher, that’s a long time not to get in the game. I did feel a little bit rusty a few days ago. Hopefully the rust has worn off.”
The A’s will be anxious to wrap things up as quickly as possible.
Having been eliminated in the first round in each of the previous three seasons, Oakland is also the last club to squander a 2-0 series lead in Division Series play. The A’s dropped three in a row to the Yankees in 2001 after winning the first two games in New York.
“I think we definitely have something to prove,” Zito said. “We don’t have a lot more years to say, ‘Oh, we’ll get them next year.’ We have to really bear down and get this series as soon as we can.”
The Red Sox rallied from an 0-2 deficit to beat Cleveland in the 1999 ALDS.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Athletics - AL West champions. Red Sox - AL wild card.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Athletics - 2B Mark Ellis (.248, 9, 52), DH Erubiel Durazo (.259, 21, 77, 100 BBs), 3B Eric Chavez (.282, 29, 101), SS Miguel Tejada (.278, 27, 106), 1B Scott Hatteberg (.253, 12, 61), C Hernandez (.273, 21, 78), LF Jose Guillen (.311, 31, 86 for Cincinnati and Oakland), RF Jermaine Dye (.172, 4, 20 in 221 ABs), CF Eric Byrnes (.263, 12, 51). Red Sox - CF Johnny Damon (.273, 12 HRs, 67 RBIs, 30 steals,) 2B Todd Walker (.283, 13, 85), SS Nomar Garciaparra (.301, 28, 105, 120 runs), LF Manny Ramirez (.325, 37, 104), DH David Ortiz (.288, 31, 101), 1B Kevin Millar (.276, 25, 96), RF Trot Nixon (.306, 28, 87), 3B Bill Mueller (AL-leading .326, 19, 85), C Jason Varitek (.273, 25, 85).
ATHLETICS PROBABLE STARTERS: Ted Lilly (12-10, 4.34 ERA). Lilly won a career-high six straight starts from Aug. 25-Sept. 21 before dropping his final regular season outing at Seattle on Sept. 28. The crafty left-hander did not fare well in his two postseason appearances against Minnesota last October, surrendering six runs and 10 hits in four innings of relief. This will be his first career playoff start.
RED SOX PROBABLE STARTER: Lowe (17-7, 4.47). Lowe is 8-2 with five saves and a 3.38 ERA in 23 career appearances, including six starts, against the A’s. He was 1-0 in two starts against Oakland this year, surrendering two runs and seven hits over 11 innings.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Athletics - LHP Lilly is 0-2 with a 5.54 ERA in six career appearances, including five starts, against the Red Sox. At Fenway, he is 0-1 with a 9.72 ERA in two starts. … The A’s have lost the last six games in which they’ve had an opportunity to close out a first-round playoff series. … RHP Keith Foulke has thrown 71 pitches over four innings in two relief outings in this series. Red Sox - The Red Sox announced Friday that RHP Pedro Martinez will be held back for a potential fifth game against Oakland rather than pitch on short rest in Game 4. … RHP John Burkett will be Boston’s Game 4 starter. … Boston, which broke the major league record for slugging percentage this season, is hitting .228 with just five runs after two games.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Athletics - 39-42 on the road. Red Sox - 53-28 at home.