Crawford's disastrous debut season with Red Sox ends in devastation
Carl Crawford lef the Tampa Bay Rays to join the Boston Red Sox last offseason
He signed a record contract but then had the worst season of his career
He failed to catch a flyball that allowed the winning run to score in Game 162
BALTIMORE -- As outfielder Carl Crawford left the Boston Red Sox's Camden Yards clubhouse after game No. 161 Tuesday night, he was asked if a trip to the playoffs would make up for a season of not living up to the expectations that come with signing a $142 million contract.
"What do you think?'' Crawford said. "Of course, we want to go to the playoffs.''
That didn't happen. Crawford's first season with the Red Sox was miserable and it couldn't have ended more harshly than it did a few minutes after midnight Thursday morning.
The Baltimore Orioles rallied for two runs in the last of the ninth inning to beat the Red Sox 4-3. The Red Sox got back to their clubhouse just in time to see Evan Longoria's game-winning home run in Tampa Bay's 8-7 win against the New York Yankees, sealing the Red Sox' doom and giving the Rays the American League wild card.
Earlier this month, Crawford had written on his ESPN blog that he would be "devastated'' if his former team would go the playoffs instead of the Red Sox. "I definitely wouldn't want to lose to those guys and watch them get into the playoffs while we go home,'' he wrote.
Ironically, Crawford was involved in the play that cost the Red Sox their chance. With the score tied at 3-3 in the last of the ninth inning, the Orioles' Robert Andino hit a liner to Crawford in left.
Crawford ran in toward the ball and slid but was unable to catch it. He got up and tried to throw home to get Nolan Reimold at the plate but the throw was off. The Orioles won and the Red Sox were left in shock.
"It was so low, I knew that I had to try to slide,'' Crawford said. "I had to make a sliding catch, but I couldn't come up with it. If I should have got it, I would have caught it. It was a tough play. I did the best that I could.''
Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, "I thought he had a chance.''
Afterward, Crawford downplayed his comments about the Rays. He said going home was a "devastating blow'' to him and his teammates. He was heading to Houston for time off and he said to start making adjustments for next season.
After nine outstanding seasons with the Rays that included four All-Star selections, Crawford had signed a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Red Sox in the offseason that was the richest ever given to an outfielder. He was expected to be a vital cog that would help Boston go back to the postseason after a one-year hiccup in 2010 but he got off to slow start and could never recover. Crawford hit .155 in April and wound up at .255 for the season, 52 points lower than he hit last season for the Rays.
He missed time with a hamstring injury and his overall stats tell the story: His on-base percentage dropped from .356 to .289 and he finished with 18 steals. In six of seven seasons with Tampa Bay, he had at least 46 steals a season. His on-base percentage went from .356 to .289.
A night before, he said he understood the irony of himself, the former face of the Rays' franchise, possibly going back to Tampa Bay and trying to keep the Rays from making the playoffs. He was impressed with the Rays' comeback from a nine-game deficit on Sept. 2.
"There a team with a lot of talent and energy,'' Crawford says. "It doesn't bother me to go back there and play them because we've been there several times.''
Before the final game, Red Sox DH David Ortiz said that Crawford was going to be fine. "He tried to do too much to impress his new club. Then, he tried to overcome a slow start. I talked to him several times and told him to relax. I tried to push him, keep him going, but it was a tough season.
"Mentally, going to the playoffs will be good for him. When the playoffs start, everybody starts from zero. That's what he needs.''
In a season that went all wrong for Crawford, he didn't get that chance.
Mel Antonen is a baseball reporter who lives in Washington, D.C.