**Editor’s note: For my less Internet speak-savvy readers (ie all of you who don’t know lolcatz), FTW means ‘for the win’. The term, commonly used to describe underdog success or funny videos online, has its sports roots in the gravelly, glorious calls of Marv Albert.
If you told me after two innings last night that David Phelps and Derek Lowe would be the only Yankees to pitch in the series opener against the Rangers, I would’ve predicted a final score of the “11-5 Texas” variety. Instead, the inexperienced Phelps and seemingly-over-the-hill Lowe held the best lineup in baseball t0 two runs, none in the last seven innings of an 8-2 Yankee laugher. Lowe in particular was spectacular in only his second regular-season relief appearance in five years, firing four innings of two-hit, no-run ball to earn his first save in more than a decade.** As painful as it was to flash back to Lowe’s most important Yankee Stadium appearance — his win for Boston in Game 7 of the 2004 Never Happened Series — it was worth it to witness the best long relief performance by a Yankee pitcher in recent memory.
**How ridiculous is it that Lowe can come in to protect a 5-2 lead in the sixth, see that lead stretch by one in the sixth and two in the seventh, finish the game with a six-run cushion and somehow earn a save?? If this is a test case for why we should overhaul the ‘save’ designation, nothing is.
Lowe’s performance called to mind Ramiro Mendoza in the late 90s, a wily, breaking stuff-and-sinkerball pitcher who when asked can pitch 3-4 innings in the middle of a game and rest a tired bullpen. Mendoza’s long-relief zenith was the 1998 season, when he averaged about 3 1/3 innings in 41 appearances despite starting only 14 games. That year, he went 10-2 with 3.25/1.24 splits and was a critical part of the greatest team in baseball history (that’s right, I said it). Lowe doesn’t need ’98 Mendoza numbers to be of value to the Yankees — if he can take care of the middle innings from time to time and make a spot start here and there if need be, he can be a tremendous asset. For what it’s worth, this was just the third relief stint for Lowe in his last 258 regular appearances (a fact I noted yesterday), and last night’s performance could be an aberration. But for one night of Crucible Week, Lowe sealed the deal in a statement-delivering come-from-behind victory.
De facto Yankee ace Hiroki Kuroda takes the hill tonight opposing Texas’s Matt Harrison, who at 13-6 this season has become a reliable No. 2 starter for the two-time defending AL champs. It’s safe to say that Lowe will not be pitching — hopefully for the Yankees, the only pinstripe-wearing hurlers to take the mound are Kuroda and Rafael Soriano. Back tomorrow with more Crucible Week action.