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Welcome mat for Crawford?

Ex-Ray unsure of reception tonight

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / June 14, 2011

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That Carl Crawford is the greatest player in the relatively brief history of the Tampa Bay Rays is hard to dispute.

He has the most games, at-bats, runs, hits, RBIs, stolen bases, doubles, and triples in franchise history along with the highest batting average. He is their Ted Williams.

But he also left town in the prime of his career to sign a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Red Sox. That decision could lead to Crawford receiving a rude reception tonight when he returns to Tropicana Field for the first time.

“I’m wondering what kind of reaction I’m going to get. I’ll just go through it and see what happens,’’ he said. “At this point, I really don’t know. To be honest with you, I don’t know. In spring training I thought things would be cool and it wasn’t, so I don’t know.’’

The Rays did not even make Crawford a contract offer once he became a free agent, knowing his value on the market was beyond their budget.

“There just wasn’t any decision about whether to stay in Tampa or not. No option at all. There’s no way you could stay with a team if a contract isn’t even offered to you,’’ Crawford said.

Crawford hopes that Rays fans realize that. So do his former teammates.

“I think the fans in Tampa Bay should be very supportive of him,’’ Rays shortstop Reid Brignac told the St. Petersburg Times. “What he did here, he was always a shining star. I just don’t feel like they should boo him or say anything bad. No one here has hard feelings for him going to Boston.’’

Crawford will hold a dugout press conference before the game tonight to handle what are sure to be an onslaught of questions from reporters in the Tampa Bay area.

“I’m pretty sure [the media] will make a bigger deal out of it than I probably am. But I understand that. It’s no problem. I understand everything,’’ he said.

Crawford is hitting a modest .246 for the Red Sox with a .279 on-base percentage. But he is hitting .303 since May 1 with an .824 OPS. Those statistics are right in line with his career numbers.

Righthanded reliever Dan Wheeler, who played for Tampa Bay from 1999-2001 and again from 2007-10, also is returning.

“I have a feeling they care more about Carl than me,’’ he said.

Honor for Ellsbury For the third consecutive week, one of the Red Sox was named the American League player of the week. This time it was Jacoby Ellsbury.

Ellsbury hit .467 (14 of 30) in six games with three doubles, a home run, four RBIs, and 10 runs. It was the first player of the week honor in his career.

David Ortiz and Crawford won the previous two awards. Somehow, Adrian Gonzalez has yet to win.

Through games played on Sunday, Ellsbury led the league with 24 stolen bases and was second in hits (84) and doubles (21). He was third in runs (49), sixth in batting average (.318), and 11th in on-base percentage (.376).

Happy to visit Tropicana Field is one of the more inelegant facilities in baseball. But Tim Wakefield, who starts for the Sox tonight, likes it just fine. Wakefield is 10-4 with a 3.40 earned run average in 25 career appearances there. Outside of Fenway Park, it’s where he has the most victories of his career. There are theories that Wakefield’s knuckleball dances more indoors than out. “I’m not sure what it is,’’ he said. “I just know I’ve pitched pretty well there.’’ . . . Righthanded reliever Bobby Jenks, back on the disabled list with a strained muscle on the left side of his back, is expected to join the team today for workouts . . . After trading Triple A catcher Mike McKenry to the Pirates for future considerations Sunday night, the Red Sox promoted Ryan Lavarnway from Double A Portland to Pawtucket yesterday. The 23-year-old has hit .284 with an .870 OPS this year. Lavarnway has made a quick rise through the system after spending the entire 2009 season at Low Single A Greenville. He is one of the best offensive prospects in the system . . . Now that Connecticut has been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, the Sox can open negotiations with their top draft pick, righthander Matt Barnes. But he is not expected to sign until closer to the Aug. 15 deadline. Barnes threw 121 innings this season, so the Sox will be in no hurry to get him back on the mound.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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