Mike Lowell seizes an opportunity

BOSTON -- All season long, Mike Lowell, generally relegated to the bench, has made it clear that, while he wouldn't be a distraction to the Boston Red Sox, he would prefer to be dealt to a team that could give him a defined role.

That role opened up for him Tuesday. In Boston.

And Lowell didn't waste any time taking advantage of it.

Lowell, activated before the game to take the spot of Kevin Youkilis (on the disabled list with a thumb injury), crushed the first pitch he saw from left-hander David Huff into the Monster seats for a two-run homer in the second inning, giving the Sox a 2-0 lead en route to a 3-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park.

The dramatic swat was preceded by a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 37,714. Lowell appreciated the crowd's reception, and as he was circling the bases, the classy Lowell was being appreciated by not only the fans but by his teammates and the coaching staff.

"It was an unbelievable ovation," said Lowell, who had been on the disabled list since June 24 and in roster limbo and a state of frustration through the non-waiver trading deadline of July 31 and for beyond.

"Any time you get that response from the fans, especially our fans here, you get excited. I wasn't emotional or crying or anything, but it felt real good, more than I expected. I think the fans here are very knowledgeable. They know what was going on at the trading deadline."

Lowell had a plan at the plate.

"He [Huff] had just walked Adrian [Beltre] so I told myself if he grooved a fastball, don't let it go. It was a good pitch to hit and I put a good swing on it. It was one of the more special home runs in my career for sure," said Lowell, who also turned in two outstanding plays at first base.

The feeling in the dugout was electric when Lowell cranked his homer.

"There was a lot of excitement," said manager Terry Francona. "His teammates were excited and it gave us a boost, a lot of good things in one. He made an immediate impact. Good for him. That about brought the house down."

"That was amazing," marveled catcher Victor Martinez, another member of the injury-plagued Red Sox who has spent time on the DL. "The first pitch he saw after being on the DL. That was a pretty nice moment."

"It was awesome to see him step up like that," said Youkilis. "It's a crazy game. All the emotion for him all season and he comes through. It stinks for myself [being on the DL] but it was a great thing for him."

As nice as all that was, this was not the way Lowell wanted to get back into the Sox's lineup.

"I don't get any joy in getting playing time when someone gets hurt," said Lowell, a 12-year veteran. "With Youkilis out of the lineup you're not a better team. I can't pretend I'll be Kevin Youkilis. The last three years he has arguably been one of the best hitters in the league. I'm a different hitter. I feel I can be a productive hitter.

"It's an unfortunate opportunity," added Lowell. "It's unfortunate we lost Kevin Youkilis but it's an opportunity for me to be productive and help the team win."

Lowell had plenty in his tank during his brief rehab stint with the Pawtucket Red Sox last week. Lowell blasted three homers in one game and added a fourth in another game. Overall he batted .500 (11-for-22) with four doubles, four homers and 10 RBIs while seeing time at third base, first base and DH.

Lowell pronounced himself ready to hit major league pitching, saying his ailing hip is no worse than it was all of last year when he said he was able to "grind it out," batting .290 with 17 homers and 75 RBIs in 119 games.

Francona and general manager Theo Epstein are happy to have a veteran to plug in with Youkilis on the shelf. Lowell won't be expected to play every day because of hip issues, but the Sox can move Martinez to first and replace him behind the plate with Kevin Cash, or put utilityman Jed Lowrie at first base.

And if Lowell should thrive and help the Red Sox chase down the New York Yankees or the Tampa Bay Rays for a playoff spot, all will be happy that a deal wasn't struck.

In December, the Sox had a deal in place with the Texas Rangers but a physical turned up a thumb injury that required surgery and scuttled that move. Nothing materialized around the trading deadline, though there was a rumor of a three-team deal that would have sent Lowell back to the Yankees, the organization that first signed him. But the Yankees are on Lowell's no-trade list.

"We have been sensitive" to Lowell's wishes, said Epstein. "He said he wanted to go to a team where he had a role. All season long we have aggressively been trying to find a fit for him, but they were hard to come by. Now he has his opportunity."

Lowell admitted before Tuesday's game that he has been "very frustrated" this season. He said he has nothing to prove. And while this isn't the way he wanted to get back on the field, he said he's ready for the challenge.

"Whatever I have left in the tank I'll give and see where it goes," said Lowell.