It's only a difference of four percentage points, but it feels 40. Who would rather have .197 than .201 next to their name?
The former was Julio Lugo's average entering last night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays. The latter was his mark after he went 2 for 4 and reached base three times in a 7-4 Boston win at Fenway Park.
The 2-for-4 evening meant that for the first time since June 20, Lugo could lay his head on the pillow with his average resting above the Mendoza Line, even if it was just a mere point above the ignominious marker.
"I'm very hopeful that he will keep it up," said manager Terry Francona. "We talk about a player getting as hot as he got cold and we're very hopeful that will happen."
The Mendoza Line is like Lugo's epic 0-for-33 slump. It is as much a psychological barrier as a statistical one and whether Lugo was in the mood to acknowledge it or not, being above it is a lot better than being below it.
"My average is not where you want it to be," said Lugo when informed he had climbed over .200. "You never want nothing below what your career [average] is. You always want to produce. You always want to do good. Your average doesn't mean anything. We're in first place. I mean, I care, but as long as I'm doing something for the team."
The surest sign the shortstop's hitting karma has changed was a controversial scoring decision in the first that went his way.
Lugo, the last of nine Red Sox batters to face Roy Halladay in the four-run first, hit a slow roller that Blue Jays shortstop John McDonald couldn't handle. If McDonald, who is regarded as an excellent defensive shortstop, had made the play cleanly, he had a shot at the swift Lugo at first, but the play was scored a hit.
Would Lugo have beaten it out? "Yeah, I would of," he said unapologetically.
When you're batting .201, you're not going to apologize for any hits. You take them any way you get them.
In his second at-bat, Lugo knocked a single to center. At that point he had reached base in six straight plate appearances, dating to the first-half finale last Sunday.
"He looks like he's starting to find some stuff," said J.D. Drew. "We're all pulling for him and hopefully he can stay on that track and have good, flat swings and hit some line drives."
The on-base streak came to a close in the sixth, but Lugo was right back on base in the seventh, reaching on another controversial call that involved McDonald, this one by first base umpire John Hirschbeck. Lugo rapped a ground ball to McDonald, who threw high to first base, pulling Lyle Overbay off the bag. Overbay leaped and appeared to brush Lugo on his way by, but Hirschbeck ruled him safe.
"I was safe," said Lugo. That was his story and he was sticking to it. Toronto manager John Gibbons disagreed and was tossed from the game for his belief.
It would be unfair to call Lugo lucky. It just appears that his luck is evening out. The last time his average was this high, after an 11-0 win over Atlanta at Turner Field, it should have been higher. Lugo lost a hit in the ninth on a bloop single to right field when Jason Varitek had to hold up to make sure the ball would drop and was gunned down at third on a force play.
That was par for the course for Lugo that month, as he gave new meaning to the term "June swoon," batting a paltry .089. But he's now batting .364 (8 for 22) in nine games this month. Like the Mendoza Line, he's putting June behind him.
"When you hit the ball hard, you have a chance to get a hit more often, so I'm feeling better now," said Lugo. "The ball is going to the right place."
And so is his average.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.