PHILADELPHIA – In the towel-strewn, profanity-laced arena of major league clubhouses, Derek Lowe is refreshing, especially after a tough loss. His disarming sense of humor remains intact. He gives credit where it is due. He doesn't make excuses.
And somewhere between shouldering blame and tossing out one-liners Thursday night, Lowe revealed an inconvenient truth, one his manager and catcher wouldn't acknowledge:
A teammate's error produced a momentary lapse in Lowe's focus, followed by a poor decision, two bad pitches and a regrettable outcome for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
There, was that so hard?
Lowe was asked to explain the home run he gave up to Chase Utley one pitch after shortstop Rafael Furcal committed a throwing error in the sixth inning of the Philadelphia Phillies' 3-2 victory in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park.
The homer tied the score, and two batters later Pat Burrell homered, chasing Lowe and concluding the scoring.
Did Furcal's error impact the pitch to Utley? Did Lowe lose his composure? Was he rattled?
Fair questions, especially knowing Lowe's past. Although he's been the most consistent starter in baseball the last seven years, he's also developed a reputation for letting a defensive miscue balloon into a disastrous inning.
"The pitch was a mistake," he said of Utley's homer. "My first instinct was to throw something else. I should have known better."
Lowe said he sensed that Utley, who slumped badly through the NLDS, would swing at the first pitch. When he looked in for catcher Russell Martin's sign, Lowe planned to throw a slider out of the strike zone, something Utley couldn't touch.
Yet when Martin signaled for a sinker – Lowe's best weapon and a pitch that had produced 11 ground balls in five scoreless innings – he didn't shake it off. He didn't step off the rubber and think it over.
Instead, he threw the pitch he didn't want to throw, and he threw it belt-high and over the middle of the plate. He wouldn't admit that Furcal's error had triggered a brain freeze, but then, Lowe never would say that about a teammate, especially a shortstop who has made countless plays behind him the last three years.
"I should have thrown [Utley] a noncompetitive pitch," Lowe said. "My instincts were right. I knew what I wanted to do, and I made a mental mistake."
As Utley circled the bases and the sellout crowd erupted, Lowe stormed around the mound. He talked to himself. He would have kicked himself in the behind if he was agile enough. Then two batters later he made the same mistake, throwing a sinker high and on the inside part of the plate, the ideal location for the pull-hitting Burrell to drive it barely beyond the left-field wall.
Any suggestion that Lowe should have been removed from the game after Utley's home run is misguided. He'd thrown only 83 pitches on a 70-degree evening and he was working on seven days rest.
Maybe his body language could have been interpreted as a man driven to distraction. But, then, that's the way Lowe always looks.
"I may look like it, but I never lose my composure," he said. "I'm like Mark Fidrych, fidgety, old school. But I'm under control."
OK, so his composure he kept. What happened was more subtle, a fleeting glitch in his thought process. That's all it took. Lowe has taken medication for attention deficit disorder for years. It would be unfair to suggest his condition makes him especially susceptible to unraveling on the mound.
Martin and Dodgers manager Joe Torre wouldn't even admit Furcal's error had an impact.
Said Torre: "I don't think the error had anything to do with what happened after that."
Said Martin: "Derek is hyperactive; that's the way he is. He pitched a great game. He made a couple mistakes, and guys jumped on them. He shouldn't hold his head down."
Lowe will relive the two fateful pitches for all of one day. Then he'll move on. He couldn't have made 255 regular-season starts in his career, earned the distinction of being the only pitcher in baseball to post 12 or more wins the last seven seasons and won Game 4 of the 2004 World Series any other way.
"Hindsight will keep you up at night," he said. "Why did I throw that pitch? Why didn't I throw something else? I always give myself 24 hours to feel good or beat myself up after a game. So come Saturday I'll be fine."
A lot of players can't be believed when they try to brush off a stinging loss. With Lowe, the approach seems genuine. He fielded a few more questions, mostly rehashing the same painful topic. Then he politely excused himself, lightening the mood as he walked away.
"Great ball chatter everyone," he said to the mass of reporters. "Tremendous ball chatter."