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Lowe has reason to celebrate

Times Staff Writer

Derek Lowe walked into the Dodgers clubhouse at Tropicana Field on Friday and found a colorfully decorated bottle of Dom Perignon waiting for him in his locker, courtesy of an anonymous teammate.

“I had 10 years today in the big leagues,” Lowe said, pointing to an inscription on the bottle. “I didn’t know it either.”

You can’t blame him for letting that slip his mind though. Especially since it isn’t true. Lowe actually made his big league debut in April 1997, 11 seasons ago, and by the following June he was part of the Boston Red Sox’s rotation. Must be something with that new math.

But that’s not to say the hard-luck right-hander had nothing to celebrate Friday, not after he handcuffed the Tampa Bay Devil Rays over 6 2/3 innings of a 6-3 win that pushed the Dodgers 11 games over .500 and moved them into first place in the NL West by half a game after the Padres and Diamondbacks lost.

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“This guy’s probably pitched good enough to have 11 or 12 wins so far this season,” Manager Grady Little said. “He’s very consistent.”

In fact, you could argue Lowe (8-6) has been the most consistent starter in a rotation that includes the National League’s co-leader in wins (Brad Penny) and one of the league’s most prolific strikeout artists (Randy Wolf). And with former All-Star Jason Schmidt out for the season after only six starts, Wolf saddled with a 6.86 earned-run average in his last four outings and the back of the rotation a work in progress at best, it has fallen to Lowe, the Dodgers’ oldest and most experienced starter, to hold the staff together. Consider the numbers:

* He has a major league-leading three complete games; no other Dodger has one.

* Opponents are hitting .227 against him, lowest among Dodgers starters.

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* Since losing on opening day, Lowe has given up as many as four earned runs only three times -- one more than Penny -- and in seven of his last 15 starts he has given up one or fewer runs. In 11 of those 15 games, Lowe has turned in a quality start.

And if the Dodgers had scored more than seven runs combined in his six losses, those numbers might be even better.

Lowe couldn’t complain about the offense Friday. Every starter contributed at least one hit to the Dodgers’ 16-hit attack with James Loney collecting three and Russell Martin, Luis Gonzalez, Jeff Kent, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp each getting two.

“Today was an offensive win,” said Lowe, who gave up three runs and five hits, and struck out five. “Sometimes you maybe lose when you shouldn’t or win when you shouldn’t.”

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Gonzalez, a Tampa native who had about 30 friends and family members in the stands, opened the scoring in the second with a leadoff home run, the second he has hit at Tropicana Field. The first came in March 1998, when he hit the first homer in the domed stadium’s history.

The Dodgers scored two runs in the fifth inning on singles by Rafael Furcal, Juan Pierre and Martin -- with Martin’s two-run single giving him six runs batted in in his last four games -- then tacked on two more in the eighth thanks to consecutive triples by Kent and Gonzalez, both 39-year-olds.

Tampa Bay answered with runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, the last coming on a two-out home run by Delmon Young that drove Lowe from the game -- literally, perhaps, now that he’s eligible for a pension.

“I’ve got my 10 years in. I’m done,” he joked. “I think I’m going to watch tomorrow’s game as a fan.”

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com


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