Crawford's homecoming doesn't go as planned
Boston left fielder held hitless in first trip back to Tropicana Field
ST. PETERSBURG -- It was the first inning, the bases were filled with Red Sox and when Carl Crawford was introduced the fans -- most of them at least -- stood and applauded.
For the Tampa Bay Rays' once-favorite son, that would be the highlight of his homecoming as a $142-million traitor now wearing a Boston baseball suit. He grounded out to first base, ending the Red Sox's most serious threat of the game.
By the time the Rays wobbled off the field at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night with their 4-0 verdict, Crawford was the forgotten son.
The night and game belonged to James Shields, who stymied the American League East leaders with a deadly changeup, allowing just five singles as Boston's Major League-best nine-game winning streak came to an abrupt halt. Shields leads the Major Leagues with three shutouts.
Rays fans had June 14 circled on their calendars for months, because that was the day Crawford, the best player in the history of the franchise, would return "home." He left a nine-year career dotted with superlatives behind last December when the Red Sox lured him to New England with the lucrative seven-year deal.
Crawford was 0-for-3 against Shields and is now batting just .243. He fouled out to first base in the fourth inning and struck out swinging on a 12-pitch at-bat in the seventh. He was waiting on-deck in the ninth when Shields ended the game getting David Ortiz to fly out.
After that first-inning greeting, the 20,972 kept their priorities in order. Crawford was mostly booed.
I'm certain he didn't know what to expect. Until lately, he's been struggling trying to live up to the Fenway Park billing and the huge salary. Boston's frenzied fans aren't nearly as forgiving as the laid-back faithful at Tropicana Field.
"There were a few cheers, a few boos," Crawford said after a long shower. "I guess there were mixed emotions out there."
When it was mentioned most of the fans were standing when he was introduced for his first at-bat, he tried to shrug it off.
"Yeah, I noticed it a little bit," he said. "I tried to stay focused on the game. To the people who cheered, I appreciate it."
He's happy to put this moment in his career behind.
"Today, I got a chance to see a lot of my friends. The fans who didn't like me had a chance to do what they wanted to do. I'm good at putting stuff behind real quick, so tomorrow I'm just going to try and make it as normal as possible.
"Today? I can't lie. It didn't feel like a normal game for me."
During his years with the Rays, he created a strong bond with the fans in left field.
"They had a lot to say tonight, but I can't repeat it to you guys," he said, laughing. "They were definitely there. There were a few positives, but a lot of negative remarks. I expected the worst and dealt with it."
Crawford started slowly with Boston. As recently as May 22, he was hitting only .209. But in 19 games since then before Tuesday night, he's hitting .333, with 18 RBIs. The Red Sox, who came to St. Petersburg as the hottest team in the Major Leagues, had won 14 of those games, including the nine-game winning streak.
I've been impressed by the way this young man has handled a difficult beginning. Before the game, I asked what went wrong early.
"I'm still trying to figure that out," he said sincerely. "A lot of things went wrong. I was thinking too much, trying too hard, probably pressing a little bit. Anything you can probably think of is what was going wrong. I'm just glad that's not happening anymore.
"It started out small and just kept growing and getting bigger. I finally had to find some kind of way to settle things down. I tried to slow everything down -- trying not to think so much, worry about everything so much. I just tried to be the person I had always been and not try so hard to impress everybody."
Manager Terry Francona said: "In April I think he was trying to prove himself. I'm just glad he's on our team."
Crawford never warmed to the cold spring weather in Boston.
"It's no secret -- it's warmer [in Florida] and it's cold in Boston," he said. "It's always nice when I'm in the sun. I think at the time I was going through so much other stuff the cold definitely didn't help.
"After playing nine years here, [Boston] was an adjustment for me, just getting used to everything -- being around new teammates, a new city, getting used to the media. I tried to take all that in at one time, and it was a lot tougher than I expected, but it's getting better.
Crawford was a .304 hitter in more than 600 games at Tropicana Field.
When Crawford played against the Rays during Spring Training in Port Charlotte, Fla., Rays manager Joe Maddon said it was strange seeing Crawford playing for another team, especially archrival Boston.
On Tuesday night, he refused to get involved in the hoopla.
"Honestly, I hate to disappoint, but it really is not that big of a deal to us," Maddon said. "He is now a member of the Red Sox. We saw him in Spring Training, we saw him in Fenway Park. I think more of what you're going to see today is for the fans."
No doubt Shields made Rays fans, at least for one night, completely put Crawford out of their minds.
And although the game didn't turn out well for Crawford, the way it unfolded might have been the best outcome for him as he turns the page to the next chapter in his career.
Now, he's merely Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox left fielder.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.