ATLANTA -- When Braves manager Bobby Cox goes out to the mound, it's usually to get his pitcher. But that's not what happened when he visited Derek Lowe in the seventh inning of Monday night's Game 4 of the National League Division Series.
With the Braves leading by a run and one out, the Giants had runners on first and second. Cox quickly chatted with his right-hander as the crowd of 44,532 at Turner Field murmured its disapproval. Going against the grain, Cox allowed Lowe to face one more hitter. Fans cheered and stomped their feet as Cox headed back to the dugout.
They won't have to worry about that anymore. Cox officially retired after the game.
"D. Lowe has been our best pitchers down the stretch in September and into the playoffs," said Braves catcher Brian McCann, who was part of the group on the mound. "He wanted the ball. Bobby wanted to see if he wanted it. I liked it. I liked it that D. Lowe wanted the ball."
It didn't work out. Lowe walked Pat Burrell to load the bases. And moments later, Lowe was out of the game. The Giants scored the tying and winning runs in the inning to pin the 3-2 loss on Lowe.
San Francisco won the best-of-five series, 3-1, and will go on to the NL Championship Series in Philadelphia, beginning on Saturday night.
Talk about hard luck -- Lowe also lost Game 1, 1-0, when Tim Lincecum allowed only two hits and whiffed 14 on his way to a shutout. Lowe only allowed three earned runs and six hits in 11 2/3 innings, but was 0-2 in the NLDS. This came after he finished September on a 5-0 run twined to a 1.17 ERA.
When Cox came out to get him after the Burrell walk, Lowe was down on his haunches behind the mound, staring into center field. He trotted past Cox and handed him the ball. The manager gave him a strong pat on the shoulder for his effort.
Long odds on short rest
Derek Lowe pitched well on short rest despite being saddled with the loss in Game 4 of the NLDS. But he fared better than most pitchers on short rest in the Wild Card era.
Source: Elias Sports Bureau
"Well, yeah," Lowe said about his distress. "There's the realization that your game is now over. I wanted to get the out, but at least get him to hit the ball. If he gets the base hit, he gets the base hit. But he never swung."
What had Lowe said to Cox when he came to the mound?
"I saw him coming, and I wanted to stay in the game," Lowe said. "He said, 'Are you sure?' And I said, 'Yes, Bobby. I'm going to get a double play here.' He looked at me and responded, 'OK, let's go.' That meant a lot to me, but it was also extremely disappointing. He gave me a vote of confidence that I was going to get out of it and the guy never even swung the bat."
Cox said that Lowe wanted another batter, and considering the way he has pitched, he deserved it.
"I can't say enough about Derek Lowe," Cox said. "He's going to be a 20-game winner next year, if they get him any run support at all. He has really changed his game plan."
Lowe also proved once again that he can pitch on short rest, particularly in the playoffs. Cox said that going into the series, Lowe had lobbied to start the first and fourth games on three days' rest. The decision to do so, at the very least, kept the Braves in the game.
On Monday, he no-hit the Giants through five innings, their only batter reaching base in the early going on an error by shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Lowe had thrown to the minimum 16 batters with one out in the sixth, when Cody Ross homered to tie the game at 1. McCann returned the favor by hitting a homer to open the bottom of the inning, giving the Braves a 2-1 lead, their last of the Cox era.
With one out in the seventh, Aubrey Huff walked and Buster Posey was safe on a swinging bunt grounder to third that was too soft for Troy Glaus to play. That's when Cox made his fateful trip to the mound.
"I think when you get to these games and understand the excitement of these games, it takes you a long way," Lowe said. "Just kind of the adrenaline itself kicks in. I said [Sunday] that I'd rather be out there failing than not trying. I'd rather go out there and pitch than leave it up to somebody else.
"If I had it do over again, I'd do it. We were looking good there for a long time. The no-hitter through five innings? I wish this was Little League or T-ball. But it isn't. Unfortunately, we play nine innings."