BOSTON (AP) – In the time it took the plane carrying Daisuke Matsuzaka to cross Illinois at 41,000 feet on Wednesday, the Boston Red Sox unveiled their new shortstop, leadoff hitter and best buddy for All-Star slugger David Ortiz.

“Me and David are very close friends,” said free agent Julio Lugo, who played against Ortiz in the minor leagues and in the offseasons at home in the Dominican Republic. “He said, ‘We’ve got to get you here.”‘

The Red Sox agreed to terms with Lugo and right fielder J.D. Drew at the baseball winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., last week, but needed to give the players their physicals before it was official. Drew’s contract hasn’t been finalized yet, in part because general manager Theo Epstein and agent Scott Boras have been haggling over Matsuzaka.

“Scott and Theo have been pretty busy with some other stuff,” assistant general manager Jed Hoyer said. “The whole group is at (41,000) feet right now. Other than that, I have no comment.”

Also Wednesday, the Red Sox agreed to terms on a $750,000, one-year contract with backup catcher Doug Mirabelli, pending a physical. The deal, which includes $750,000 in performance bonuses, was negotiated by Sam and Seth Levinson, who also represent Lugo.

Lugo was eager to come to Boston to play shortstop and take over for Alex Gonzalez, who signed with Cincinnati.

Primarily a shortstop throughout his career, Lugo played second and third base for the Dodgers after a midseason trade from Tampa Bay and slumped from .308 to .219 in the last two months.

“It was a difficult situation for me. I wasn’t being myself,” said Lugo, who agreed to a four-year deal for $36 million with a fifth-year option that could bring it to $45 million. “To be out there every day from now on, I’m just going to be myself.”

A large entourage of about 15 relatives – including his wife, son, mother, brother and sister – joined Lugo for the Fenway Park event. But his biggest fan may be Ortiz, who has been lobbying with team brass to bring his friend to town.

“Starting in ’04, David Ortiz used to bug me every time we played in Tampa,” manager Terry Francona said. “We’ve thought a lot of him for a long time. The things he brings to his club are things right now we don’t have: a guy with some offensive weapons out of the shortstop position.”

Ortiz noticed that Lugo’s mother was at the ballpark and vowed to eat every meal at his new teammate’s house.

“It makes me feel like back in the day, when we used to play together,” the popular slugger said, resplendent in designer sunglasses, a pinstripe suit and the usual complement of bling. “He’ll bring a lot of energy. He prepares himself every day to come out and do his thing.”

AP-ES-12-13-06 1856EST


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