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Lugo's fielding draws a crowd

Fenway fans let voices be heard

Sox shortstop Julio Lugo steps on second ahead of the slide of Gabe Kapler in the fifth inning. Sox shortstop Julio Lugo steps on second ahead of the slide of Gabe Kapler in the fifth inning. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / May 10, 2009
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The Fenway Park crowd offered Julio Lugo its judgment once more yesterday as he walked into the batter's box, and he tried to ignore it.

"I don't see bad things," Lugo said. "I see only good things."

Boos cascaded as Lugo led off the sixth inning, a message from an inning earlier, when the crowd deemed Lugo's defense at shortstop the cause of the Tampa Bay Rays' six-run outburst, never mind that he was not charged with an error.

Fans vocally bestowed Lugo, fair or not, with much of the blame for Tampa Bay's 14-5 victory over the Red Sox. In the pivotal fifth, the Rays assaulted the left side of the infield with singles.

Whether Lugo could have turned some of them into outs is debatable. The crowd's reaction, after several plays, gave a definitive view.

Once Lugo settled in at the plate in the sixth, he clobbered a home run, his first since June 20 of last season. The blast, which hooked around the left-field foul pole, erased the jeers and invited support.

Afterward, Lugo's insistence that he had not noticed the booing lasted for only a moment.

"It's always good to have them on your side," Lugo said. "There's no one - there's no one in any sport - that can tell you it doesn't bother them if fans boo. If there's somebody that says that, it's [expletive]. It bothers them. It [expletive] bothers me.

"There's nothing you can do. They've got a right to do it. But also people need to understand we're not perfect. We're human beings. That's why we're here. If not, I would have wings. I'd be beside God right now. I'd be an angel. But I'm not an angel. I'm a human being that lives right here."

Red Sox manager Terry Francona gave Lugo a two-day sabbatical last week to rest his sore right knee, which had undergone surgery and kept him out for most of the first month. The Red Sox are 1-5 when Lugo starts at shortstop. Their record when Nick Green starts at short is 16-4.

"We're trying to balance winning with getting Julio back, getting some of that athleticism back," Francona said. "It's there and we know it and he knows it."

Said Lugo: "I feel good. My knee is fine now. I just need to go out there and play every day."

Lugo's trouble yesterday came in the fifth. With Akinori Iwamura on first and no outs, Dioner Navarro ripped a hard grounder to Lugo's right. He shuffled over, crouched down, and watched the ball skip just under his glove.

"That ball, I got to it," Lugo said. "I just couldn't come up with it."

It was ruled a hit.

"The last thing I want to do - and I would never do this - is throw a game on [Lugo]," Francona said.

If Lugo fielded Navarro's grounder, "potentially, it's nobody on, two out," said Francona.

Instead, men occupied first and second. B.J. Upton's well-placed bunt was a single instead of a sacrifice, and the inning unraveled from there.

"I know I could have come up with that ball that Navarro hit," Lugo said. "I'm a quick shortstop. Some other guys don't even make it to that ball. Sometimes I get in trouble because of that. I get to balls that some other guys don't make it to. But still, if you get to it, you've got to catch it."

In their next six at-bats, the Rays produced four more singles that skipped through the left side. Lugo dived for one, hit by Carl Crawford, that he missed by several feet. To the Fenway crowd, which booed after each hit, Lugo became a scapegoat. To Lugo, he was an innocent bystander, a victim of an unusual concentration of hits and the space he occupied.

"The other balls, the fans are going to do whatever they want," Lugo said. "They're going to boo. They're going to clap. And they clap when they feel you're playing good. They're going to boo when you don't. They've got a right to do that. I've got a right to do my best, and if something don't come out good, what can I do?"

And Lugo found himself in the middle of another play. Iwamura, batting again, chopped a ball up the middle with one out and the bases loaded. Lugo fielded the ball on a chest-high hop and shuffled twice. He stepped on the base before Gabe Kapler slid in, but never released the ball to first.

The crowd booed again, demanding a double play. That, Lugo explained, was impossible.

"You've just got to wait for the ball," Lugo said. "You've got to wait for the ball to come to you. If I go get that ball, they'd both be safe. If I try to go one-handed, the ball will go into center field, two runs score. You've got to take the sure out. I got the ball, stepped on the bag. There was no time at first base. You've got to make sure at least one out."

The fans could not fault Lugo's hitting. Since returning from his two days off, Lugo is 7 for 14 with a homer and triple.

"I think that your swing comes first, because you can work on your swing every day," Lugo said. "You can see the ball coming at you from the pitcher. In the field, they've got to hit it to you, so you know all the angles and the instincts. There's nothing else you've got to do.

"You've just got to play and feel comfortable out there and know you're a good defensive shortstop, a good defensive player. That comes with time."

Adam Kilgore can be reached at akilgore@globe.com

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