Wiedmer: Lowe finally hits one far enough

Wiedmer: Lowe finally hits one far enough

September 1st, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Derek Lowe celebrates after hitting a home run in the third inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals in Atlanta Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

ATLANTA - You'd think the craziest moment of the Atlanta Braves' 3-1 victory over Washington on Wednesday night was pitcher Derek Lowe launching the first homer of his 15-year major league career at the tender age of 38.

But Lowe knew something about himself that could top that.

"That's the first homer of my life," he said of his solo shot off John Lannan. "In 38 years on this planet that's the first home run I've ever hit over the fence. I rolled a couple out there in little league. But I've never, ever hit one out until tonight."

It does defy logic. Especially when you consider that Lowe stands 6-6 and weighs 230.

Or as teammate Chipper Jones - who swatted his 450th out the inning before Lowe - said: "That's just crazy. I've seen D-Lowe hit two or three out during batting practice lots of times. Playing as much as he has in the National League [seven seasons], you'd have thought he'd hit several out before now."

Chipper then paused and grinned, "Of course, the pitch kind of ended up where he swung, too, if you know what I mean."

What it means for the record books is that Lowe becomes the third oldest player in major league history to hit his first home run after turning 38. Only Randy Johnson (40 years and nine days in 2003) and Preacher Roe (38 years and 132 days in 1953) are older than Lowe's 38 years and 92 days.

"Excuse me, I've got to check my 27 voice mails now," chuckled Lowe as he hammed it up with the media. "Oh, I've got 18 texts. Do I even know 18 people?"

There were 20,687 people inside Turner Field to watch the Braves win their 80th game of the season against 55 losses, and it could be argued that with the exception of the 10-4 win over the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 12 - the night they retired Bobby Cox's No. 6 jersey - this was arguably the most entertaining victory of the year.

Especially since it ended just two hours and 12 minutes after it began, a figure always appreciated on a school night.

But it really was so much more than that. Always popular Matt Diaz drew the biggest cheers of the evening except for Chipper, the Big Peach thrilled to have him return for the remainder of the season after the Braves traded a player to be named later to the Pittsburgh Pirates for him.

"The Braves told me if I could get here by game-time I could play," said Diaz, who started in right field and collected two hits. "So I hustled my [behind] and got here. It's weird. I walked through the tunnel to the field before the game and it was like I'd never left."

If Diaz can repeat the .305 batting average he turned in during his five-year stint between 2006 and 2010, Atlanta may never let him leave again.

"Matt's a nice piece to have," said manager Fredi Gonzalez. "A good teammate. A pro's pro. He got two hits tonight, which is exactly what we hoped he could give us."

Finally, there was rookie closer Craig Kimbrel, who moved himself into the Major League Baseball record books by becoming the first rookie to rack up 41 saves in the regular season.

"I was a little frustrated when those two games in New York got rained out," said Kimbrell, referring to the Saturday and Sunday games against the Mets that were postponed due to Hurrican Irene. "I really just wanted to get this one behind me and concentrate on the rest of the season."

Somewhat lost in the excitement of Chipper's 450th, Kimbrel's 41st and Lowe's first home run was what the pitcher did on the mound in limiting the Nationals - who should be referred to as the Nemesis around the Braves, given that they've beaten the ATL 24 of the last 36 times they've played - was the pitcher's effort on the mound.

In six innings and one batter he gave up three hits and one run, that coming on a home run to Michael Morse at the start of the seventh.

"Just a lazy pitch," said Lowe, who improved to 9-12 on the season. "But all in all, a good outing. I'd rather not have a season like this, but I'd always rather pitch well late [in the season] than early."

Someone asked him which he'd cherish more, the home run or the victory.

"Oh, the pitching is always more important," he said. "But the homer was pretty cool. I don't even remember running around the bases."

Then again, when you've been around as long Lowe has, the memory is reportedly the first thing to go.