07/04/07 12:09 AM ET
Lugo snaps lengthy skid
Two-run single in second ends 0-for-33 drought
By Alex McPhillips / MLB.com
The teams changed. Lugo strolled casually to his position from second base. Turning, he caught the eye of Manny Ramirez, who was carrying his hat.
A routine gesture, sure, but one could only guess, as Ramirez loped from the dugout steps onto the field, what else he had in store. Not a hard guess.
Ramirez opened his arms and enveloped the slender Lugo in a bear hug.
There was no sarcasm in the moment that played out in front of 37,005 at Fenway Park, just after Lugo got his first hit in 19 days, 13 games and 34 at-bats. Only complete, head-spinning relief.
"Success comes from having success," said Lugo after going 2-for-3 in the Red Sox's 4-1 victory. "Sometimes you try, try, try, and people say, 'Relax, relax.' It's not easy to relax when things are not going well."
There were two outs in the second when Lugo first stepped to the plate against Tampa Bay starter Scott Kazmir. Kevin Youkilis stood on third, Mike Lowell on second.
Kazmir stretched and delivered a fastball, missing the catcher's mitt by half a foot inside. No matter. Home-plate umpire Paul Nauert called it a tough-luck first strike. Nothing new for Lugo.
Then the Fenway faithful, sensing an opportunity for a second straight night, started chanting Lugo's name. "Let's go Lugo," they cried in unison, slowly at first, crescendoing next as Kazmir came set. Lugo held his bat out with one arm, then brought it back to the ready position.
Kazmir's second fastball zipped in low but caught more of the plate. Lugo swung hard. The ball bounded up the middle, escaping through the hole.
Youkilis and Lowell scored and Lugo rounded first, settling back on the bag. The crowd stood and roared -- and remained standing, showering gratitude on the grateful shortstop.
"Man, it felt good," said Lugo, buoyed up by the crowd for two straight nights since returning to the lineup on Monday. "[Monday] night was very special for me. I'm a guy that I'm not going to go up there and slack off. I'm a guy that is going to go out there and give you a hundred percent every day, you know? And the fans see that and I appreciate [for] them to do that for me."
"That lit me up a lot yesterday," he added. "I came to the field thinking, 'Man, things have got to change.' Because these people deserve for me to play good."
Say this about Lugo's single: It touched a nerve. One of Boston's principle offensive struggles in recent days had been its inability to drive in runners, especially with two outs.
The Red Sox never had much success against Kazmir, either. Lugo's single came exactly one year, to the day, after Kazmir struck out 10 Red Sox in one of the more dominant shutouts of the 2006 season.
Amid the celebratory mood of Tuesday's game, nevertheless, were signs that Lugo's confidence remains a work in progress. In his second at-bat, Lugo struck out, looking much like he did during his nightmarish June, when he made his slow return to the dugout.
In the bottom of the seventh, Lugo shot his second single to right field. But when he attempted to steal second, he hit the brakes and hurried backward when he saw that catcher Dioner Navarro had a handle on the ball. The Devil Rays' backstop promptly picked Lugo off first.
"I was going and slipped my first two steps," he said. "I pulled back."
Still, there was no denying the immeasurable progress of Lugo's night in Boston. There was no quantifying the relief that escaped from Lugo's weary shoulders as he sunk into Ramirez's.
On Tuesday, at least, Red Sox fans shared in the embrace.
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.