For Carl Crawford, now come the boos
Red Sox left fielder has yet to live up to expectations at the plate
BOSTON -- He is not alone, of course. Not on a team that is 2-10, is collectively batting .224 and has five players in Friday night's starting lineup batting at the Mendoza Line (.200) or worse.
But Carl Crawford was the one advertised as the game-changer, the left fielder being paid on average more than any of his illustrious predecessors in Fenway Park, including Manny Ramirez. More? In his first dozen games with the Boston Red Sox, Crawford has been paid more ($1.5 million) than Ted Williams is said to have been paid his entire career ($1.45 million, according to baseball-reference.com).
So, Crawford is the biggest target and the player at whom Red Sox fans are now directing boos, a sound foreign to him during the nine seasons he spent with the Tampa Bay Rays.
"They have to boo," he said after Friday night's 7-6 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, in which he went hitless in five at-bats, including a three-strike punchout in the ninth that ended with him swinging at a pitch that bounced in front of the plate.
"I'm playing real bad; we're playing real bad," Crawford said. "You definitely understand. You can't be upset about that. You kind of feel their frustration a little, but we're frustrated, too."
So far, Crawford's Red Sox experience has been The Nightmare on Lansdowne Street. He now is 51 at-bats into his Sox career and he has seven hits. One has gone for extra bases. The average is .137. He has scored three runs and knocked in one. He couldn't look more uncomfortable at the plate. The ump cost him an infield hit in his first at-bat Friday, but with Jacoby Ellsbury on third and one out in the seventh, Crawford managed just a shallow fly to left.
He also came up short on Travis Snider's game-tying double in the sixth, a ball that hit above him on the left-field scoreboard. He admitted afterward he might have been able to catch it.
At the plate, he is so at sea, he might as well be the USS Crawford.
Manager Terry Francona said he looked "a little bit jumpy," which is kinder than saying he looks painfully and totally out of sync.
"I thought he beat out that ball in the first inning," Francona said of Crawford's bid for an infield hit, which replays appeared to show he had won in a photo-finish race with pitcher Brett Cecil to the bag at first.
"I know he didn't hit it good," Francona continued, "but it's amazing how something like that [helps]. You go out to left field and you're 1-for-1 and you're feeling OK about yourself."
They have to boo. I'm playing real bad; we're playing real bad. You definitely understand. You can't be upset about that. You kind of feel their frustration a little, but we're frustrated, too.” -- Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford
Instead, it's impossible to imagine Crawford feeling anything but miserable. The Sox had essentially two days off, with a rainout Wednesday and a scheduled off day Thursday. Crawford was asked whether he thought about baseball during that time or tried to avoid thinking about it.
"You think about baseball a little bit," Crawford said. "You get your mind off it a little bit, try to relax as much as you can."
But at the plate, Crawford looks like he's mainlining Red Bull, swinging at pitches far out of the zone, fouling off pitches that he should be hitting off the wall, rolling over on way too many pitches and beating them into the ground.
"I'm still battling right now," he said. "Obviously I'm not getting the results I want, but I got to keep battling."
The Sox caught a break Friday night when umpires overruled a home run call on Adam Lind's first-inning drive that veered just right of the Pesky Pole and called it foul. Had the call stood, the Jays would have led 3-0. Instead, the Sox built a 3-0 lead on home runs by Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, who has 15 walks but had not yet gone deep until he deposited one in the center-field camera well.
But Clay Buchholz walked five batters in just five-innings plus, and the Jays pulled off a hit-and-run and a double steal in a four-run seventh inning, the runs all coming at the expense of Bobby Jenks, who heard boos, too.
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For Crawford, however, every return trip to the Sox dugout is becoming like the Walk of Shame, which is not how anyone imagined it.
"Relax," Pedroia said when asked what advice he could offer Crawford as a teammate. "It's baseball. We've all gone through these stretches, you know. But we need him, man. We've seen what kind of player he is. You just gotta take a deep breath and go play, that's it.
"Just play though everything. You want your name in the lineup every day when you're struggling, to find a way to get out of it."
For the past six games, Crawford has hit leadoff after Ellsbury batted leadoff in the first six games. He expressed a distaste for batting leadoff with the Rays but assented to doing so when Francona came to him after the Sox lost their first six games of the season, all on the road.
It hasn't worked out. Crawford has just three hits in 28 at-bats in the No. 1 hole and has not drawn a walk. Then again, he is just 4-for-23 batting elsewhere in the lineup.
Does he feel like his luck might change if removed from the leadoff spot?
"I don't know," he said. "My luck right now has been bad wherever. I don't know if that's the case or not. Who knows?''
Francona said he might talk with Crawford to see whether he believes that batting leadoff is contributing to his woes.
"He hasn't led off all year," Francona said, "and he never really has gotten hot yet. He's going to get hot. I don't care if we hit him 1 through 9, at some point he's going to get real hot. That's probably something I need to sit down and talk with him about. The last thing I want to do is hinder somebody. I want to help him."
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.