By Ross O’Keefe
For The Diamondback
Tampa Bay was in trouble. The Rays were down 4-2 in game four of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and trailing 2-1 in the best of seven set.
That is, until former Maryland second baseman Brandon Lowe stepped up to bat in the sixth inning. With one swing of the bat, he changed the course of the series, launching a three-run home run into left center.
Lowe had saved Tampa Bay from a near-unassailable 3-1 deficit, as they went on to win that game 8-7 — buoyed in part by his three-run blast.
Lowe’s game four antics weren’t enough for the Rays in the end. The Dodgers recovered, clinching the series in six games. But for Lowe, the homer was yet another reminder of just how far he has come: From injury setbacks in College Park to struggling at the plate in the playoffs, Lowe is no stranger to adversity.
Coming into the baseball program as an all-state talent from Suffolk, Virginia, Lowe’s torn ACL right before the beginning of his freshman season forced him to redshirt. But he bounced back, making the all-ACC third team and tying for the team-lead in RBIs as a redshirt freshman.
He built on that season in 2015, starting all 66 games and helping Maryland advance to the NCAA Super Regional against Virginia. But in that series, injuries tormented Lowe again. He broke his fibula as he attempted to round first base, ending his final season as a Terp.
“I thought I could get to second,” Lowe told the Bowling Green Daily News. “I realized about a quarter of the way there that I would have been thrown out. I tried to stop. My right leg slid out and left leg stuck. It just folded my ankle up.”
Maryland lost that game, but Lowe was selected days later by the Rays in the third round of the MLB draft. There, Lowe fought his way to the top again, playing a few seasons in the minor leagues before Tampa Bay called him up for 43 games in 2018. In 2019, he became an All-Star. And this year, he was in the World Series.
“I know it’s really cool for our current players,” said Maryland baseball assistant coach Anthony Papio, who played with Lowe for three years. “It just validates the whole thing that they’re doing right now.”
Coach Rob Vaughn says he shares Papio’s excitement.
“[I am] just really excited for him,” Vaughn said. “He’s had kind of a scuffle through the postseason, but I’m excited to see him get after it.”
Lowe wasn’t the only former Terp who suited up in the fall classic. The Dodgers’ lefty pitcher Adam Kolarek also played in College Park from 2008-2010, where he had a 5-6 record as a pitcher. The two faced off in a tense situation in game four, as Kolarek struck out Lowe on an 0-2 pitch in the eighth inning.
“[It] means a ton for our guys to be able to see guys that were in their shoes here and get a chance to do it at that level,” Vaughn said.
Before making his World Series debut, Lowe posted a .269 batting average with 37 RBIs and 14 home runs in 56 regular season games. But he struggled in the postseason. His batting average dropped to .131 with five RBIs and three home runs in 16 games prior to game three — with most of his run-generating production coming in the World Series.
Lowe needed a spark, and it seems his work ethic gave him one.
And although Lowe’s 2020 didn’t quite end in the confetti and champagne he likely hoped for, his journey — from injury-plagued Terp to MLB All-Star — is a testament to his grit and determination.
They’re the same qualities Lowe showed while at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium.
“He’s just a very, very, very, diligent worker,” Papio said. “That guy really works at his craft.”