He’s Mr. Unbelievable
Small-town pitcher Kyle Lohse keeps chugging through the big leagues
No, it was never like this for Kyle Lohse back in Hamilton City.
Of course, when you grow up in farm country and graduate in a high school class not much larger than a 40-man roster, how could it be?
But he seems to have adjusted quite nicely, feeling just as much a part of the insanity at Citizen’s Bank Park—where 42,552 squealed with glee as the Philadelphia Phillies frolicked on the field following a recent 11-10 comeback win over the division-leading New York Mets—as anyone else.
“It’s exciting,” said Lohse, whose been here just over a month since being acquired from Cincinnati right before the July 31 trading deadline. “It’s pretty neat taking the hill every five days knowing you’re trying to get your team into the playoffs, particularly considering where I came from.
“I basically grew up on a farm. I was in a class that graduated 53. The odds against any of us [pointing to his teammates] being here are tremendous. Coming from where I was, it’s even more unbelievable.”
But Lohse (pronounced lowsh) long ago beat those odds.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound right-hander was sectional MVP at Hamilton High in 1996 and all-conference at Butte College in 1997. That fall, he played rookie ball in the Chicago Cubs’ system, and he got off to a hot start in the Minnesota Twins’ organization. Shrugging off the frustrations of a 3-18 season at Double A New Britain (Conn.) in 2000, he found himself pitching in the major leagues less than a year later.
Lohse spent nearly five seasons with the Twins, establishing himself as a steady but unspectacular pitcher who generally throws well enough to keep his team in the game with a chance to win. He got traded to the Reds last July 31; almost a year to the day after he left Cincinnati for playoff-contending Philadelphia.
Phillies outfielder Aaron Rowand, familiar with Lohse from his years in the American League with the Chicago White Sox, knew what his team was getting: the epitome of a quality starting pitcher, something teams can never have enough of.
“You know from him you’re going to get a quality outing,” Rowand said. “He’s got all the pitches and mixes them up well to keep guys off balance. He throws all of them for strikes and has command of them.
“I was excited [with the deal]. I thought that was a big pickup for us. Everybody’s really glad to have him on the team.”
The feeling has quickly become mutual for a pitcher who knows firsthand what it takes to deal with the pressure cooker of getting into the postseason—and beyond, having pitched in four playoff games for the Twins from 2002-04 without getting a decision.
“It’s different,” said Lohse, a deceiving 8-12 with a 4.47 earned-run average for the season, but 2-0, 4.12 (including Monday’s no decision in a 6-5 win) so far with the Phillies. “You’ve seen Hall of Famers who don’t have a chance to play in the postseason. I’ve been very lucky to play meaningful games in September most of my career.
“I feel pretty fortunate. And I’m impressed with the chemistry here. As soon as you come over you can see how much they’re pulling for each other. You don’t see that in other places. Sometimes you have guys who worry more about themselves than how the team does.
“Here guys don’t care who gets it done.”
On one particular sunny late-August day, for a change, Kyle Lohse didn’t get it done. Handed an early 5-0 lead, he promptly squandered most of it, causing Manager Charlie Manuel to yank him in the fourth inning. Lohse became a cheerleader from that point, relieved to see his teammates bail him out with a late rally.
“That makes it easier to forget about this one,” he said. “I let the team down. I owe them one.”
As the Phillies try to run down the Mets to win the National League East, or else grab the wild card for the playoffs, having a veteran pitcher who’s been there—who’s pitched inside the raucous Metrodome, where it’s so loud you can’t hear the person next to you, and in hostile ballparks—is invaluable.
“I’ve been around a while,” said Lohse, who tries to get back to Chico periodically to see his family, though he now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I try to stress to some of the young guys it’s not every year you’re in the thick of it. But there’s nothing like pitching in the playoffs.”
If the Phillies somehow manage to get there, Lohse will be a big reason why. “For the most part he’s done the job,” said appreciative pitching coach Rich Dubee. “He pounds the strike zone. He commands four pitches. Having seen him before, I knew he changed speeds. But he attacks the strike zone and he’s aggressive.
“He’s fit in well here.”
Well enough to stick around for a while after this season?
That remains to be seen. Lohse’s contract expires after this season, and he’ll go on the open market as a free agent. He could command a three- to four-year contact in the $8 million to $10 million annual range.
“For the first time in my career, I’ll be able to sit back and see who wants me to pitch for them,” he smiled. “I’ll just wait and let it happen.
“But if I do my job everything will take care of itself.”
For Kyle Lohse—who’s already accomplished far more than anyone with his background could’ve possibly expected—that’s always been a winning formula.