Crawford steals three bases; Rays bedevil Red Sox

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Carl Crawford started plotting his strategy the night before, hoping for an opportunity to catch Boston off-guard and steal home.

"It's the first time at any level," the speedy Tampa Bay outfielder said Wednesday night after stealing three bases, including home, in a 5-2 victory, the Devil Rays' third straight
over the Red Sox. "Nobody ever went to the windup with me on third base."

That is until Curt Schilling did it Tuesday. When Jason Johnson
did the same Wednesday, Crawford set his plan in motion without tipping off his manager, third base coach or even the batter at the plate, Jorge Cantu.

"I said it's going to be do or die. I'm going to take this chance right here," Crawford said. "If I'm out, I'm out. If I'm safe, everybody will be happy about it."

Crawford, who's not headed to the All-Star Game even though he's batting .325 and leads the league with 32 steals, singled twice and drove in two runs.

In addition to stealing home in the fourth, he stole third base in the second inning and second in the fourth to become the eighth player in major-league history with 200 steals before age 25.

"He's so fast, it's unbelievable," Boston third baseman Mike Lowell said. "Yesterday he stole third from a standstill with both hands on his knees. Most guys, they try to get momentum behind them. He's going from a standstill."

Tim Corcoran (3-0) allowed two runs and four hits in 6 2/3 innings, holding the Red Sox to Jason Varitek's solo homer in the second and Kevin Youkilis' sacrifice fly in the fifth. The right-hander struck out two and walked two.

Brian Meadows got the final three outs for his fourth save in as many chances.

Tampa Bay will go for the sweep of the first-place Red Sox, who had won 14 of 15 entering the four-game series, on Thursday night. Boston is 6-1 against the Devil Rays at Fenway Park this year but has lost five of six at Tropicana Field.

"During the season, you go into little streaks," Lowell said. "When you lose three in a row, it seems really no one is swinging the bat well. When you win 12 in a row, it seems like everyone's swinging well."

Like Crawford, Rocco Baldelli singled twice and drove in two runs off Johnson (3-10), who has lost both his starts since joining the Red Sox in a trade with Cleveland on June 21.

Baldelli had an RBI single in the first and drove in another run with an infield hit in the second. Crawford singled with the bases loaded to drive in two runs in the second and singled again in the fourth before stealing second and moving to third on a groundout.

With Cantu batting, Crawford bolted for home when Johnson went into his windup for an 0-1 pitch. With the crowd of 15,001 rising to its feet, he made it easily, sliding into the plate before Varitek could get into position for a tag.

"He gambled and won," Varitek said.

"It's just a tough thing to watch," added Boston manager Terry Francona.

Crawford thought about trying to swipe home Tuesday, when Schilling went into a windup with the two-time AL stolen base champion on third. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon gave him the green light to try it if Johnson did the same.

"I timed it one time," Crawford said of Johnson's first pitch to Cantu. "The second time I took off."

Johnson allowed five runs in the first two innings of a loss to Florida in his Red Sox debut last Friday. He gave up four runs in the first two innings this time and five runs and seven hits overall in four innings.

"At the time, I felt comfortable throwing out of the windup," Johnson said. "I thought about going from the stretch. ... Obviously I chose the wrong thing."

Game notes
The last time a player stole home on the Red Sox in a non-double steal situation was Sept. 20, 2000, when Cleveland's Omar Vizquel did it with Rheal Cormier pitching. ... Devil Rays DH Jonny Gomes was ejected for saying something to plate umpire Greg Gibson after taking a called third strike in the third inning. ... Varitek's last seven homers have come on the road. ... Baldelli has 12 multi-hit games in 21 starts since coming off the disabled list June 7 after missing 221 games with an assortment of injuries. ... Tampa Bay closer Tyler Walker, sidelined since June 13 with a right elbow strain, will undergo Tommy John surgery on Thursday. ... Devil Rays catcher Dioner Navarro was not in the lineup after escaping serious injury when his sport utility vehicle flipped twice in a traffic accident late Tuesday. He's expected to play in Thursday's series finale.