Lugo smiling, enjoying postseason ride
Shortstop's Game 1 helps put up-and-down season in past
BOSTON -- Julio Lugo smiles a lot these days.
After spending parts of four seasons with the cellar-dwelling Devil Rays, Lugo wanted to see what life was like with a winning team. The Rays discussed a new deal with their shortstop before the 2006 trade deadline, but in the back of his head, Lugo knew he wanted to be a part of winner instead of a centerpiece on a young rebuilding team.
Subsequently, a deal did not come to fruition and the Rays traded Lugo to the Dodgers; he signed with the Red Sox prior to the 2007 season.
Lugo had experienced many trips to Boston. He'd felt the energy derived from winning in front of an enthusiastic crowd and wished he, too, could be a part of the team that fuels Red Sox Nation.
"This is what I always wanted while I was in Tampa," said Lugo on Tuesday, a day before his first playoff game as a member of the Red Sox. "I feel like part of the team."
Lugo, who went 1-for-3 in Wednesday night's opening game of the American League Division Series, is living large and enjoying the ride, which is a different scenario than what he experienced at the beginning of the season -- when his situation looked like a classic case of "be careful what you wish for."
Lugo, who hit .308 with the Rays in 2006 before getting traded, hit .256 in the first month of 2007 in advance of a tailspin that saw him hit .209 in May and .089 in June.
"There's a few of us who started out a little slow," said teammate Coco Crisp, who hit .264 for Boston in 2006 after hitting .300 for Cleveland the previous year. "Myself, [J.D.] Drew, even [Dustin] Pedroia -- but he picked up a lot quicker than us -- and Lugo.
"He went through a tough time. And he battled and he showed a lot of heart. Three of the four guys I mentioned have experience. They've played a lot in the big leagues, had a lot of success. [Lugo's] hit .300, same with J.D. and me. When you go through a time like this, it's definitely a challenge to your character."
In hindsight, Lugo believes it took him a little longer to get on track because he wasn't playing relaxed. That's understandable, considering Boston's shortstop position has been a way station the last few years with tenures by Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria and Alex Gonzalez, to name a few.
"I was kind of wondering what happened," Lugo said. "I just knew it was a matter of time. I knew I was a good hitter. So it was just a matter of time."
What impressed Lugo's teammates and the Fenway faithful most was the way he played when he struggled at the plate.
"It was very frustrating for him," Alex Cora said. "The fans showed support, I think, because he came out and he tried. He was running and running hard, making plays -- they really respect that.
"I think [if] you play the game right, respect the game, the fans are going to respect you and we are going to do the same thing. It's baseball, and like I always said, if you don't respect the game, you've got problems. But here's a guy who shows up every day and he gives you energy. And he hustles every day."
Crisp noted how impressed he was that Lugo did not let his slump at the plate affect the other aspects of his game "that make him a good ballplayer."
"He's done a fantastic job, jumping around and smiling all the time," Crisp said. "He goes out there and plays hard and he's very upset when he gets out, because he knows that's not how he normally plays. And he did a great job of stepping up and keeping focused on defense, and he's a big reason we're here right now -- because of his defensive plays and his timely hitting."
Lugo snapped out of his funk to finish at .237 for the season, with eight home runs, 73 RBIs and 33 stolen bases. And in the end, Boston brought Lugo the joy he hoped to find.
"It's just more fun," Lugo said. "It's just unbelievable the feeling you get every time you win."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.