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Crawford happy to be back

Carl Crawford led the celebration after scoring with an injured David Ortiz (center) on Adrian Gonzalez’s homer. Carl Crawford led the celebration after scoring with an injured David Ortiz (center) on Adrian Gonzalez’s homer. (jim davis/globe staff)
By Alex Prewitt
Globe Correspondent / July 17, 2012
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Amid all the criticism that besieged Carl Crawford throughout his inaugural season with the Red Sox, the outfielder at times sunk into the doldrums, battling the internal frustration alongside the on-field disappointment.

No more. His mind is in a better place now. So is his body.

Crawford made his long-awaited 2012 debut for the Sox at Fenway Park Monday night, returning after a seemingly endless line of setbacks with a 1-for-3 outing and two runs scored, including the go-ahead run in the eighth in Boston’s 5-1 win over the White Sox.

Batting second, he singled up the middle in the first off Chicago starter Dylan Axelrod in his first major league action since Sept. 28, 2011. Crawford had played 11 rehab games in the minors, and was activated off the 60-day disabled list when Brent Lillibridge was designated for assignment.

“It helps you relax a little bit more and not worry about it so much,” Crawford said of his first at-bat. “Then it kind of reminds you that you can still do it. It was good to get that knock out of the way. I’ve never started off a season with a base hit. It did a lot for me.”

Crawford had offseason wrist surgery, tore a ligament in his throwing elbow, and, perhaps most indicative of the way Crawford’s year has gone, suffered a groin injury that further delayed his return.

And though his night was perhaps overshadowed by the ovation Kevin Youkilis received, Crawford still wound up on the winning side. He worked a five-pitch walk off Leyson Septimo in the eighth, and scored on Adrian Gonzalez’s three-run homer.

“Well, that was it, right?” manager Bobby Valentine said. “He gets a base hit, scores a run, has a real patient, professional at-bat in the eighth inning. Hasn’t seen the lefthander, knows it’s a tie score. You know how much he wants to do something really special, and the walk turned out to be really special.’’

Before the game, Crawford spoke at length about the pressure he felt upon signing a seven-year, $142 million deal and subsequently hitting just .255 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs in 2011.

“Last year, I think I lost a lot of confidence in myself,” Crawford said. “This year, I was able to get that back, not reading so much stuff and watching so much TV where you have so much negative stuff about you being said.

“It’s been really frustrating for me. I’ve had to stay strong mentally, basically. I can take care of the physical part. But mentally, I broke down a little bit. I think I’m in a good place now, understand some things better and having that approach I think will help me out a lot this year.”

The physical worries, however, will still linger, at least in his arm. Hitting the cutoff man will be a priority, but adrenaline and certain game situations, such as a runner tagging from third, might supercede the plan. And Crawford knows full well that any throw from left field could be his last of the season. He has spoken about the likely need to have Tommy John surgery in the offseason, as well.

“I try to keep those thoughts out of my mind,” he said. “I say if something happens with my arm, it happens. But I’m just going to go out there like I always do.”

Valentine said Crawford would be monitored and days off would be prescribed as needed.

“I definitely feel like I’m in a good place,” Crawford said.

He rarely could have said the same about 2011. After inking the lucrative deal out of Tampa, Crawford quickly got dropped in the order by then-manager Terry Francona following a slow start that never really gained momentum. Frustration set in. Then the injuries. And returning took until the second half this season.

“It’s the Red Sox, they’re one of the best teams out there,” Crawford said of his lengthy road back. “Not to say anything bad about the other guys, but [the fans] want to see everybody out there. I understand that. I’m a big part of the puzzle that was supposed to help them win a championship.

“So I want to get back out there and try to help. ‘’

Alex Prewitt can be reached at aprewitt@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt.

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