Q&A: Derek Lowe on Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS

On October 20, 2004, Derek Lowe had what might be the greatest pitching performance in Boston Red Sox history. It’s certainly the most underappreciated. Facing the New York Yankees in a classic Game 7, Lowe allowed one run and one hit in six innings. And he did it on just two days of rest.

The Red Sox won the game 10-3 and completed a stunning comeback from a three-games-to-none deficit against their hated rivals. They went on to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series and earned the franchise’s first title in 86 years.

Lowe talked about his historic outing when his current team, the Cleveland Indians, visited Fenway Park earlier this season.

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David Laurila: Your performance in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS is arguably the greatest in Red Sox history. Do you agree with that?

Lowe: I don’t know. There have been a lot of games in the franchise’s history. Maybe the magnitude makes it that big. It was a perfect storm. I had competitive stuff that day and we scored a lot of runs. I had just pitched against them 48 hours earlier, so I had a fresh thought of what I wanted to do.

Our game plan was to throw a lot of breaking balls. We threw a lot of them and I was fortunate enough to have good command of my off-speed stuff that day. We figured they’d be ultra-aggressive, because it was kind of how the series had gone. They had been up 3-0 and we had clawed our way back to Game 7 in Yankee Stadium. We felt they’d be over-aggressive and maybe force the issue. Our game plan was something we were going to live and die by.

DL: How good was your stuff that day?

Lowe: Oh, God. I’ve had better. I’ve had worse. I don’t want to say it was just average, but the magnitude made every pitch important. I was able to have competitive enough pitches in big moments, and that allowed us to get to play St. Louis.

DL: What do you remember about the first inning?

Lowe: Striking out [Gary] Sheffield on a 3-2 breaking ball. We were trying to throw him curveballs inside. We were trying to start the ball directly at him, knowing full well that the ball was going to end up right down the middle of the plate. We were fine with that. We figured that he would take it, and he did.

DL: Derek Jeter flew out and Alex Rodriguez grounded out in that inning. Rodriguez had homered against you in Game 5.

Lowe: The home run he hit against me was on a flat sinker, away. I can’t exactly remember what we got him out on, to be honest. At that point, you’re as nervous as all giddy up. You’re trying to act all calm, cool and collected, but you’re just looking for outs. With Jeter — for me, getting a fly-ball out isn’t ideal, but it was an out. The last thing I wanted, especially in that stadium, was a lead-off base hit, so I was happy with it.

Getting that first out was all about momentum and confidence. [Jeter] is the leader of that team, and we were in their stadium, so it was crucial to have an easy inning. Getting the leadoff guy obviously helps make that possible.

DL: You had a 2-0 lead when you took the mound in the second inning.

Lowe: I knew the score, but by no means did I ever pitch to the score. There are some games throughout the season — the regular season — where you have a 7-0 lead, and you pitch to that 7-0 lead. What I mean by that is you may throw more fastballs. A run here and a run there isn’t going to kill you. This was a time where I never let the score change how I was going to approach the game.

DL: You gave up a run in the third inning and the Yankees were threatening for more.

Lowe: Yes, and our bullpen was up. Sheffield hit a bullet to third. It was a hanging breaking ball and Bill Mueller made a great play at third base. Even though we still had a big enough lead [6-0], you could sense that it was a time they wanted to strike. The Bill Mueller play was — you don’t want to say it was game-changing, because it was the third inning, but to me, personally, it could have been the end to my night. I remember looking down to the bullpen and if there were three mounds out there to throw off of, we’d have had a guy on all of them.

DL: You didn’t allow a base runner after that.

Lowe: I settled in and got a lot of ground balls. I felt good enough with my stuff that once they had that chance to strike, and didn’t — and I think we scored again the next inning, to increase our lead even more. From there on out, I don’t recall ever having any stressful pitches. I got ahead of a lot of guys the rest of the way and the crowd was at a standstill. There wasn’t a lot of noise, and that’s ultimately what you want to have on the road.

You’re usually going to get more comfortable during a game. This was no different. Again, we had a big lead and Jason [Varitek] had a tremendous game plan. I never shook him off the whole game. We had talked about what we wanted to do and I put my whole game in his hands.

DL: When you walked off the mound after the sixth inning, did you know that was it?

Lowe: Yes. We had talked about it before. [Terry Francona] asked, “How much do you have left?” I said, “This will pretty much be it.” I remember striking out Sheffield and just kind of letting out a deep breath. It was over. It was kind of what you dream about the night before. It was how you see the game going, and I was able to do it. To be honest, it was also a big relief.

DL: The Stadium got pretty loud when the Yankees scored twice against Pedro Martinez in the seventh inning. Sitting in the dugout, was there a sense of fear?

Lowe: Well, yeah. We had seen their offense. They had scored 19 runs back at Fenway. Any time a team like that gets any type of momentum, God knows where it could take you. Fortunately, we were able to get some big outs, and off we went.

DL: Is it the biggest game you ever pitched?

Lowe: No doubt, but I also look back at Game 4 as being pretty gratifying. I knew that it was going to be my last year [with the Red Sox]. I was the last guy to make the team when we put together the playoff roster; I was the 11th guy on the staff. We were down 3-0 and had just gotten blown out in Game 3. I had an opportunity to pitch, and I kept us in the game. But Game 7 was obviously bigger.

DL: Did pitching on two days of rest help your sinker?

Lowe: I don’t believe in that. I would much rather pitch at full strength. You still need your legs under you, and you still need your arm in the right arm slot. If you get too tired, your ball doesn’t move anymore. I promise you. They should do that on the show Myth Busters, because it’s not true.

DL: What else is notable about Game 7?

Lowe: My shoes didn’t make it. My game shoes didn’t make it to Game 7. I’m not blaming the people in New York, but they had a tendency to lose stuff at the wrong time. I got to the game and I had zero shoes. Zero.

They went to Sports Authority and all they had were Reeboks with no toe on them. I wear Nike. If you look at the tape, you’ll see that my shoes were completely black, because I wasn’t supposed to wear anything besides Nike. I pitched Game 7 wearing off-the-shelf Sports Authority shoes. And I won.



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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gfor
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gfor
4 years 9 days ago

This game never happened because Selig cancelled the season after teh first three games of that series.

Frank
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Frank
4 years 9 days ago

I also misremember the last four games of this series.

EnglishMariners
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EnglishMariners
4 years 9 days ago

This is fascinating stuff, thanks for sharing.

dutch
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dutch
4 years 9 days ago

Lowe: I don’t believe in that. I would much rather pitch at full strength. You still need your legs under you, and you still need your arm in the right arm slot. If you get too tired, your ball doesn’t move anymore. I promise you. They should do that on the show Myth Busters, because it’s not true.

Please send this to every major league manager, minor league manager, little league manager, managers in MLB The Show, grocery store managers, etc etc etc

Anon
Guest
Anon
4 years 9 days ago

where you have a 7-0 lead, and you pitch to that 7-0 lead. What I mean by that is you may throw more fastballs.

Oh Really?

Any chance for some research on this? I agree with him, but ‘pitch to the score’ isn’t a popular concept on this site.

A
Guest
A
4 years 9 days ago

C’mon man. He was nice enough to do this interview. There is no reason to be bashing a minor detail of what he is saying. Next time that you have over 10 years MLB experience you can tell us what really happens with a large lead.

Anon
Guest
Anon
4 years 9 days ago

In case you didn’t read my entire post, I said: I agree with him, but ‘pitch to the score’ isn’t a popular concept on this site.

I was bashing Fangraphs for rejecting a simple and reasonable concept. The question wasn’t to any specific person; I was hoping that a writer for this site would look into it.

lewish
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lewish
4 years 9 days ago

He is not part of the site, just an interviewee giving his answers…you research it…not him.

asdfasdf
Guest
asdfasdf
4 years 9 days ago

I don’t think there’s any doubt that this type of pitching to the score occurs. If you’re up 7-0 in the dog days of summer, why not lay some fastballs in there? If they score a few, then you can bear down.

John B
Guest
John B
4 years 7 days ago

I have no doubt “pitching to the score” happens to an extent. I just don’t think it’s responsible for Jack Morris’s ERA, which is where it tends to become contentious.

Anyway, an excellent interview. Loved the detail about the shoes, and the nod to Varitek.

Douglas
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Douglas
4 years 9 days ago

Jack Morris would have been proud of Derek that night.

BTW A-Rod’s homer off Lowe came in Game 4, not Game 5.

feld
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feld
4 years 9 days ago

All tiger-town was proud of home-boy Lowe that night, especially Mickey Lolich (’68 WS game 7 complete game win on 2 days rest). It must also be remembered that Lowe won the final game of all three playoff series in ’04.

Andrew King
Guest
Andrew King
4 years 9 days ago

I dont think he was pitching to the score rather than noting the pressure was off with a big lead.

Kyle
Member
4 years 9 days ago

I never knew that about the shoes. Wild!

Rich Mahogany
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Rich Mahogany
4 years 9 days ago

It would have been an even more historic performance if he had pitched in bare feet.

Jake
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Jake
4 years 9 days ago

Damon’s second HR, the one that put them up 8-0, is the happiest I have ever felt in my life. Sheer elation. I would kill to have that feeling again just for a moment.

Rich Mahogany
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Rich Mahogany
4 years 9 days ago

Scary.

Austin Brancheau
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Austin Brancheau
4 years 9 days ago

Jake kills just to experience brief moments of sheer elation. Moderators need to keep this sicko off of FanGraphs.

Michael
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Michael
4 years 9 days ago

Thank you.

Oscar
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Oscar
4 years 9 days ago

These interviews are always good and this one is no exception. Keep them coming!

noseeum
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noseeum
4 years 8 days ago

That was a bad day for Yanks’ fans but I didn’t have much hope by game 7.

Worst day ever for me as a Yankee fan was losing to the D’Backs in 2001. I’m generally a laid back sports fan who takes his lumps in stride, but not that day. That one still hurts.

Sox was just such an epic beat down over four games that there’s not really one moment of suckitude that sticks out. If I was a Sox fan I’d probably cherish this ALCS win over the Yankees more than even the ring. But only because they got the ring too!

wont let me post without a name
Guest
wont let me post without a name
4 years 7 days ago

I’m surprised the Yankees even won a game in that series. The 04 Sox led the MLB in runs scored and also in least runs allowed as a pitching staff.
Truly one of the greatest teams of all time.

D-LoweFan
Guest
D-LoweFan
2 years 11 months ago

Its not unappreciated by me. D-Lowe will always be my fave red sox player (with Yaz , Trot Nixon and Brian Daubach) and I will always make sure he is appreciated.

I had a sign for him at his first game back in Boston welcoming home and thanking him and he thanked me twice. I will always remember that he took the time to say thank you.

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