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Merloni enjoys his Fenway visit

When Lou Merloni signed with the Cleveland Indians in January, his legions of Framingham followers took out the 2004 baseball schedule and circled this week.

Merloni, who made his major league debut with the Red Sox exactly six years ago -- May 10, 1998 -- appeared in a visiting uniform at Fenway Park for the first time last night.

It was different, he said, coming to the old ballyard as an Indian.

"I didn't even know where the visiting clubhouse was," said Merloni. "I couldn't find the entrance."

When he found his way there, he was surprised at what he found.

"This is a lot smaller than I expected, that's for sure," he said.

He passed the afternoon hours playing cribbage in the clubhouse, keeping one eye on the card game and the other on a Martin Lawrence movie on the wide-screen TV.

Later, he walked down the tunnel to the visitors' dugout. He saw old friend Nomar Garciaparra on the field and gave him a hug. Johnny Pesky was elated to see him as well. It was good to be in Boston, said Merloni, even as an opponent.

"A lot of my friends and family were looking forward to me coming in for the week," said Merloni. "They had plenty of time to get their tickets. It should be fun with them here. I've been looking forward to coming here for a long time. I feel I should be nervous playing this game, but I'm not."

Although he is not a regular in the Cleveland lineup, Merloni is seeing more action that he did in Boston. While he usually played third base, shortstop, and second base for the Red Sox, he seems to have found a new position with the Indians.

"I've been playing first base against lefties and I've been getting in the lineup more," said Merloni, who started last night at third and has started nine games at first and six at the hot corner.

He has been effective against lefties, too. Going into last night, he had a .370 average (10 for 27, 1 HR, 4 RBIs) against lefties, but only a .167 average (4 for 24) against righthanders. In Baltimore Sunday, he hit his first home since last July, a solo shot in a 12-11 loss to the Orioles.

Merloni got his first taste of being a Red Sox opponent last week at Jacobs Field. Before the games, he would have lunch with his old teammates "and after the games we went out for a couple of drinks. It was a lot of fun playing against them and talking trash."

Merloni has been keeping up with the Red Sox.

"They came into Cleveland limping a little bit, but they starting playing great," said Merloni.

But it has been a frustrating year for the young Indians.

"Our record shouldn't be 12-18," said Merloni. "It could very well be reversed and we could be in first place, playing the exact same games. We've had a few tough breaks and lost a lot of tough games late.

"We're a young team, but then again it doesn't matter if you are a young team -- we've got to start winning ballgames. We're going to be all right. We've been struggling a bit. But that's the way it is. You have good days and you have bad days."

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