BOSTON -- Carl Crawford, his voice reduced to a painful rasp, sat at a table Saturday morning in a packed interview room at Fenway Park, his diamond earrings gleaming in the TV lights, basking in the kind of attention he seldom received in the many lean years he spent playing for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Only moments after Crawford stood as Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein helped him into his new No. 13 Red Sox jersey and Boston cap, MLB.com already was tweeting information on how to order the new Crawford jersey online.
"It's nice to be on board,'' said Crawford, who already had exchanged text messages with a jubilant David Ortiz about being teammates instead of rivals in the American League East.
"Instead of getting booed," Crawford said about taking up residence at Fenway Park, "they can boo somebody else now.''
The newest member of the Red Sox said it was important to stay in the AL East because of his familiarity and desire to play with and against the best in the league.
"There won't be many adjustments, except to the cold," Crawford said with a laugh. "The AL East is so exciting and I really wanted to stay in the AL East, when I heard Boston was interested, I was definitely excited."
For months, the Red Sox had kept close watch on Crawford, assigning one of Epstein's special assistants, Allard Baird, to scout him for the second half of the season. A week ago Tuesday, manager Terry Francona accompanied Epstein to Houston, where they met Crawford in the offices of his agents, Greg Genske and Brian Peters.
The speedy Crawford's signing as a free agent follows Boston's acquisition of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego and gives the Red Sox one of the best lineups in the majors.
"He was really enthusiastic, which I thought was good," Francona said. "I'm not crazy. I knew it was going to take some money to sign him. That's why they're free agents and they have that right. But I didn't feel like we were behind anybody else. That was kind of my feeling.
"I thought he enjoyed our visit. I know we did. We stayed and talked about a lot of stuff. It was a really comfortable visit."
Still, as the winter meetings began in Orlando last Monday, there remained a good deal of uncertainty about whether the Red Sox would be able to sign Crawford. The day after visiting Crawford, Francona and Epstein had gone to Chicago to meet with Jayson Werth in an airport hotel, and Werth privately told friends it would be a dream to play in Boston.
But then the Washington Nationals stunned the baseball world by signing Werth to a seven-year, $126 million deal last Sunday. Epstein knew that it would take at least seven years to get Crawford's signature on a Boston contract.
On Wednesday, according to a baseball source, Crawford's agents sent word that they were setting an 11 p.m. deadline. If either team offered seven years and $142 million by that time, the player was theirs.
Epstein, the source said, placed a phone call to England, waking up his owner, John W. Henry, who was in Liverpool to watch his soccer team. The Red Sox at that stage already had offered seven years, but Epstein needed permission from Henry to increase the average annual salary of their offer by a couple of million a year.
Henry signed off on the idea, and at about 10:50 p.m., 10 minutes before the arbitrary deadline, the Red Sox made their offer, which was accepted. It was 4 a.m. in Liverpool when Epstein e-mailed Henry with the news that they had gotten Crawford.
The Angels matched the Red Sox offer at the deadline, according to the source, but by then Crawford already had committed.
The Angels dispute that version of events, according to another major league source. The last offer they made was a six-year deal for $108 million, with a vesting option of $18 million for a seventh year, pushing the total value of their package to $126 million.
That was the last offer the Angels made, insisted the source, who also denied a published report that club officials had boasted in Orlando they were certain of signing the player. There may have been a perception that the Angels were favored to sign him, the source said, but they were as uncertain as the Red Sox were during the process.
The deadline probably worked to the Red Sox's advantage. If talks had continued, other teams could have gotten involved, including the New York Yankees, especially if New York loses out on the bidding for pitcher Cliff Lee. Unthinkable? Hardly. The Texas Rangers are the favorites in some circles to sign Lee.
But there will be no pinstripes for Crawford, and Hunter will have to carry on in Anaheim without his good friend. Crawford's name now belongs on Francona's lineup card. The Red Sox manager said he'll probably bat him second or third, with Jacoby Ellsbury leading off.
"Our best team is when Jacoby's hitting first," Francona said.
Crawford said he doesn't mind where Francona puts him in the lineup.
"Whatever he wants to do with me is fine," Crawford said.
Crawford, reminded of the great left-fielders who have preceded him in Boston -- Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, and Manny Ramirez, three Hall of Famers and one on-deck -- said he'd like nothing better than to join that select company.
"In my opinion, he's probably the most athletic player that's in the game," said team captain Jason Varitek. "Seeing him develop as a hitter and playing more, every year he seems to get better. He's dynamic. Like Johnny Damon, his athleticism is his biggest attribute. Sometimes things happen at the plate that are so far against the book because he's just an athlete."
Said Francona: "He's athletic. He's talented and we're going to turn him loose and let him run around Fenway."
Crawford, a four-time All-Star, hit .307 for Tampa Bay this year while setting career highs with 19 homers and 90 RBIs. A four-time stolen base champion, he swiped 47 bases and led the AL with 13 triples.
Crawford, who won his first Gold Glove award this year, receives a $6 million signing bonus, with $1 million payable within 30 days of approval and the rest in $1 million installments on the first day of five consecutive months starting in May.
He gets salaries of $14 million next season; $19.5 million in 2012; $20 million in 2013; $20.25 million in 2014; $20.5 million in 2015; $20.75 million in 2016; and $21 million in 2017.
Crawford would earn a $50,000 bonus each time he's an All-Star; $100,000 each for Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and World Series MVP; and $75,000 for league championship series MVP. He would get $200,000 for winning the MVP award, $125,000 for second, $100,000 for third, $75,000 for fourth and $50,000 for fifth.
He also receives a limited no-trade provision. Boston designates 28 teams he can be traded to without his consent and Crawford can eliminate two of them.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Material from ESPNBoston.com's Joe McDonald and The Associated Press was used in this report.