Old habits told Julio Lugo to pull into the Devil Rays players parking lot, to walk into the home clubhouse Friday afternoon as he returned to Tropicana Field for the first time since the Rays dealt him at last year's trade deadline.
"Before I just give a guy the car so he can park it for me," Lugo said. "Now I have to go park it myself. It feels weird to be back on the other side. I've never been to this side of the clubhouse."
Lugo has made a home for himself in a Red Sox uniform. After slumping for most of the season, Lugo entered Friday riding a 15-game hitting streak, lifting his average 36 points to .225. And it feels good sitting atop the AL East standings for a change.
But Lugo said wearing a Rays uniform for parts of four seasons was special to him. He resurrected his career in Tampa Bay and became a fan favorite, so he was curious about how he would be received at the Trop.
"It does matter to me," Lugo said. "They cheered for me here. I feel at home here. I hope I get a standing ovation."
Lugo didn't necessarily take into consideration that a majority of the 33,144 were Red Sox fans, so he received a warm reception regardless.
Despite going 0-for-4 Friday, snapping his hitting streak, Lugo played a role in the Sox's 7-1 win. Rays starter Jason Hammel had held Boston to one hit over five innings when Lugo drew the back end of one-out back-to-back walks that chased Hammel from the game. Kevin Youkilis homered in the next at-bat off reliever Juan Salas to give the Sox the lead for good.
"They took the lead and we've got the confidence that we're going to come back," Lugo said. "When you're on the other side, you don't know if you're going to come back. It's tough."
For nearly three weeks this season, Lugo's average was below .200, and he began losing playing time to Alex Cora. He made a slight adjustment that increased his bat speed, which he said has been the key to hitting .375 (24-for-64) over the past 16 games.
"It's just a matter of time with him," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's a tough transition going there, there's a lot going on, but I always felt from what I knew of him last year he would be able to survive there."