Crawford stole the show
ST. LOUIS - All-Star Games make for strange bedfellows, don’t they?
How do you figure Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Carl Crawford, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the American League’s 4-3 win over the National League, reaching up to rob Colorado’s Brad Hawpe of a home run in the seventh inning, saving Jonathan Papelbon’s behind? Both players found it kind of amusing.
“[Papelbon] was nice to me after the play,’’ said Crawford. “We’ve had some hard times over the years competing with the Red Sox but he told me, ‘Good catch.’ Probably go back to the same stuff after [this game], but on this day we all came together and got along.’’
Crawford, who is 2 for 11 with six strikeouts against Papelbon, is having a tremendous season, but acknowledged later he’s never come close to making a bigger catch. He said he’s reached over fences before to try to snatch a home run, but always came away with an empty glove. Not this time. Hawpe hit it well to the opposite field and Crawford said, “I tracked the ball all the way to the wall and went back as far as I could and just happened to time the leap right on the money. I came down with it. I don’t think I’ve ever made a catch like that.’’
It was Torii Hunter-like, and Crawford said he’s seen plenty of those.
“Torii gets up in the air a lot higher than I do,’’ said Crawford. “I didn’t care about style points. I just wanted to jump as high as I could and come down with it, and I did.’’
Papelbon gave Crawford his just due.
“Obviously it was a pretty amazing play,’’ said Papelbon. “It just goes to show you defense wins championships and defense wins All-Star Games, too. That was a really good battle.’’
Crawford is a Red Sox nemesis, but also a player the Red Sox respect a great deal. He stole six bases in a game against Boston this season. His skills are off the charts when he’s healthy. Crawford, ironically, replaced Jason Bay in left field last night. Would Bay have come down with the ball? The feeling is probably not. Crawford’s athleticism is impressive and his Tampa Bay and AL All-Star teammate, Carlos Pena, was not one bit surprised.
“He’s just one of the best athletes you’ll ever see out there,’’ Pena said. “I’ve played with a lot of players over the years on different teams and in terms of pure athleticism, there isn’t anyone better. That was a big play. That helped us win the game. When you come up with a huge defensive play like that that just gets everyone on the bench revved up. I’m sure it helped Papelbon after that, but the big thing is we got out of that inning without allowing a run and then Curtis Granderson hits that triple and we get the run home on Adam Jones’s big sacrifice fly. Defense can get a team going just as much as a big hit or a big pitching performance.’’
Crawford, who went 1 for 3, and became the first position player to win the MVP without collecting at least one RBI since Willie Mays in 1968, was smiling from ear-to-ear after learning of his award. He never expected to win the hardware, but “I was just so happy to be named to the team and I just wanted to play a little bit and do something important in the game, but you never expect something like this.’’
Crawford played at Busch Stadium last season and that might have given him some idea of how to play Hawpe’s ball.
“I think it’s just one of those things where the ball is so high in the air it gave me time to get back to the wall and do what you can from there,’’ he said.
With the AL winning 12 of the last 13 Midsummer Classics (the lone blemish was the 7-7 tie in 2002), it means AL will enjoy home field advantage in the World Series. While that didn’t help the Rays last season against the Phillies, it’s not lost on players from contending teams, especially the Rays.
“That makes it all the more sweeter,’’ said Crawford. “I really think home field is so important because we play very well at our ballpark. We just have to play well enough the second half to get into the playoffs and hope we’re in a situation where we can get into the World Series. We know how fun it was last year, but we didn’t complete what we set out to do.’’
The performance wasn’t lost on Tampa Bay and AL manager Joe Maddon, who said of Crawford, “I was talking to someone on the way over [to the media] that I don’t recall ever seeing Carl go over the wall. I’ve never seen him do that. The way he got to the position on the ball was great, and the catch, obviously, was fantastic. Carl has become a better ballplayer since I first met him in 2006. He’s a better baserunner, a better base stealer, and it’s all because of his work.’’
Pena pointed out that Crawford is a young veteran.
“It’s funny that while Carl has been in the league a long time, he’s still a young player and still learning to play the game,’’ Pena said. “He’s doing things now because of his experience, that a lot of people haven’t seen him do before. I mean he’s reaching new levels now.’’
Granderson, who sparked the winning rally, appreciates good defense, said Crawford’s play was the key.
“Absolutely Carl Crawford really won this game,’’ said Granderson. “Without that play it’s a different set of circumstances. We just fed off his energy. He makes a play like that and I just was able to drive the ball and run as hard as I could for as long as I could.’’
While everyone was a teammate last night, neither Papelbon or Crawford are going to get too comfortable with it.
“[The Red Sox are] one of the teams we have to beat to get where we want to go,’’ said Crawford. “It’s been like that for a long time. I don’t think he’s going to give me any breaks because I helped him in the All-Star Game. But for one night, it was kind of fun.’’