$142M Crawford hits 8th for Red Sox

Carl Crawford #13 of the Boston Red Sox

Carl Crawford #13 of the Boston Red Sox bats in the third inning against the New York Yankees. (May 13, 2011) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Fresh off signing one of the more lucrative contracts in baseball history, Carl Crawford barely had enough time to enjoy his first regular-season paycheck before the Red Sox dropped him in the batting order. Talk about rough beginnings for Boston's $142 million-dollar man.

Long considered a top-of-the-lineup staple, Crawford arrived in the Bronx on Friday night firmly entrenched as the Red Sox's eighth hitter, something no one would have ever predicted the day last December when Boston introduced their new leftfielder at a Fenway Park news conference.

Crawford has responded well to the new -- if unfamiliar -- spot in the order. Mired in a horrendous slump through April, Crawford has rebounded in May, hitting .327 (16-for-49) with three doubles and a triple. But his 11-game hitting streak ended Friday night; he was 0-for-4 with an RBI.

Crawford doesn't think his new spot in the batting order is the main reason for his recent upswing, saying he's been putting in a lot of extra work in the cage with hitting coach Dave Magadan. But he didn't exactly rule out the lineup drop as a contributing factor.

"I'm not sure, because I don't like to think about where I'm hitting at," Crawford said before Friday night's game. "I try to do the same thing that I always do, so I really don't know."

Imagine, for a second, the uproar that would accompany such a move in New York if the Yankees -- just 15 games into the season -- decided to drop a player they just signed to a seven-year, $142-million contract to the bottom of the batting order.

It was far from an easy decision for Red Sox manager Terry Francona, but he believed the move was necessary to help the struggling player and the struggling team.

"You can hit him anywhere you want and at some point, he's going to start getting hits," Francona said. "But at some point as a manager, you've got to balance that, you know, we're 2-10, 2-11 and a guy who is hitting second or third has an on-base percentage of .118. That's a little bit glaring."

Crawford actually was hitting .127 with a .172 on-base percentage and the Red Sox's record was 4-10 at the time he was demoted in the order, but Francona's point was clear.

With his team quickly digging itself a hole in the standings, he needed production from the guys who would get the most at-bats.

When asked if Crawford eventually will rejoin the top of the batting order, he didn't hesitate. "Oh yeah," Francona said. "Oh yeah."

Crawford has batted either seventh or eighth in 22 of his last 23 games.

In leaving the Tampa Bay Rays for the Red Sox, Crawford went from playing before mostly empty seats at Tropicana Field to performing before some of baseball's most raucous fans. The lineup drop succeeded in taking some pressure off him, as Francona hoped.

"He's doing much better," Francona said. "The first couple of weeks were pretty tough. He got off to a horrendous start and it was tough . . . Everything is just kind of slowing down for him a bit."

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