"Carl's playing with a real fire. It's a good thing to see." -- Bobby Valentine, after the Red Sox' 7-5 loss to the White Sox Tuesday night
Carl Crawford evidently isn't the forgetting type, especially when it comes to what happened after those first two days of the 2011 season. It's why when the outfielder strode to the plate for his first at-bat of the season Monday night, the sting of his first series as a member of the Red Sox still lingered.
"I need to do something, and I need to do something quick," he told WEEI.com when asked what was racing through his mind during his initial plate appearance in the 2012 season. "And I need to make an impact on this game quick, and I don't don't need to wait until tomorrow. That was my playoff game, the first game."
Crawford did make something happen in that first at-bat, singling up the middle. He would eventually come around to score, springboarding himself toward an initial two games in which he has gone 4-for-7 with four runs and three stolen bases. In Tuesday night's 7-5 loss to the White Sox, he became the first Red Sox left fielder to notch three hits with three stolen bases in a game since Roy Johnson managed the feat on May 21, 1934.
"That's why this is extremely important. I'm extremely serious about it," he said. "People say if you had a bad game it would be no big deal, but that's not the case here. The first game you have to show something. Every game you really have to try and show something, but I'm always going to remember that two days. Two days. Look at [Jose] Reyes, what he did this year. He struggled for like a month and now he's hitting like .280 almost again, back to himself. I'm mean, c'mon man."
The two days that are stuck in Crawford's craw is in reference to those initial games of the '11 season, in which he hit third in the Red Sox lineup. But after Crawford went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts, then-Red Sox manager Terry Francona dropped him to No. 7 in the batting order, a spot the outfielder would man for much of the season.
For the '11 season, Crawford hit in one of the top five spots 20 times, while totaling 110 games in the sixth, seventh or eighth positions. But talking to the left fielder, you get the feeling this isn't totally having to do with his preference when it comes to a place to hit. There is a sense that he views the early-season lineup move as some sort of betrayal, one that still is sticking with Crawford as he tries to turn this new page.
"I look around baseball and I look at all the guys that signed big contracts and all the guys that went to new places. All, besides Prince Fielder maybe, they all had some kind of getting-used-to type period and I feel like I got cheated out of that. I didn't have the chance to really do that," Crawford said. "You spend $142 million on somebody, you have to live and die with them. You didn't really give me a chance. After two days, that's really never happened. My confidence just went down. It was gone. What do you expect? What's wrong with one month? If I'm terrible after one month, then yeah. Who spends $142 million and throws a guy in the seven-hole and leaves him there? It doesn't make sense to me.
"I didn't feel like I had the manager's confidence. I don't know about the organization, but I don't try and look past the manager, so I feel like I didn't have the manager's confidence, therefore I started to think something was wrong with me, and it just snowballed after that. It had a trickle-down effect, and it just got worse and worse as the days went by."
It's why Crawford's immediate presence in the No. 2 spot is so notable.
"It's like a natural thing for me," he said. "I knew I better do something quick. Last year I got knocked out after two games, so right now I'm always on the defense when it comes to that. I know I don't have that much time, so I have to do something quick. [Monday] I was happy I was able to show something quick, because the people here panic so fast. After one or two games they will be calling for me to go back. I kind of see how things go around here. I have a better understanding."
Valentine wanted to give Crawford a pat on the back even before the 30-year-old officially returned from his elbow injury, hence his reintroduction to the top of the batting order. It was the latest in what the outfielder said has been a wave of support from Valentine since the two first interacted in spring training.
"He's told me [Valentine has his back] a million times, but the thing is, I understand Boston. I'll remember that for the rest of my career, and going through that bad thing has probably helped me make sure I'm prepared," said Crawford, once again referring to being dropped in the order after two games in '11. "I don't know who could be prepared for the first two games. You could be prepared for the first two games and still go 0-fer, and over here you would get dropped in the lineup for that. Anywhere else they just know it as the first two games. You just have to be prepared and lucky, and [Monday] I was both."
The other part of Crawford's foray into the '12 season that should also be recognized is his relationship with Valentine.
What once was perceived as icy -- remember Crawford not returning Valentine's calls in the offseason -- has turned into a valued partnership. It started with a five-minute meeting on Field 5 in Fort Myers, continued with the outfielder taking to the manager's style of spring training, and continued with Valentine's backing heading into Crawford's debut.
"We talked right before spring and that kind of eased things a little bit," Crawford said. "But once we got here and he saw how I did things, and I saw how he operated a little bit … I'm kind of like a guy who people pre-judge you. I think he's the same way with people making judgments too fast. I said I wouldn't do that in this situation. I was going to try and get to know the guy myself and then I would make my own decision, and I think he did the same thing with me. That's how we both realized we weren't that bad. I know a lot of people might have problems with him, but for me I just haven't had those problems. It's fine with me. I don't know what's going to happen in the future, but as of right now me and Bobby get along just fine."
Whatever the reason, two games sure feels a lot different for Crawford this time around.
"I have to say that the support system has been really good for me, Bobby, and the training staff has been wonderful. I can't thank those guys enough for the things they've done to help me get out not the field. I can't really ask for more," he said. "The communication with me and Bobby, coming into the season that's what I was worried about. It's been the opposite. You can't do anything but have high praise for what has been going on."