When Carl Crawford was dropped in the batting order by then-manager Terry Francona, the outfielder was rattled. As a perennial All-Star, he earned his reputation as a hitter in Tampa Bay at the top of the lineup.
That's why Monday's game was sweet for Crawford. Making his 2012 season debut for the Red Sox against, the 30-year-old returned to his comfort zone when skipper Bobby Valentine penciled him in the No. 2 hole.
"I can run as much as I want," Crawford said of hitting higher in the order. "Last year, I was limited to what I could do. Now I have the option to take off whenever I want to run, make the defense nervous, put pressure on them, make them think about me more than the hitter sometimes. I can basically do what I want to do."
Quietly but effectively, Crawford did what a top-of-the-order hitter is supposed to do. On both occasions that the speedster reached base — the first and eighth inning — the Red Sox fed off his momentum by driving him in.
Crawford set the table for Adrian Gonzalez's first-inning RBI, smacking a single to center field. By the time it was all over, Crawford capped his debut with a 1-for-3 effort with a walk and two runs.
"Had a real patient, professional at-bat in the eighth inning," Valentine said. "Hasn't seen the left-hander [Leyson Septimo], knows it's a tie score, he's leading off. You know how much he wants to do something really special. The walk turned out to be really special."
And Crawford is convinced it's as a result of his spot in the order.
"It feels good to be able to see pitches," Crawford said. "Last year, I think that was the area I struggled in, so to be able to notice pitches real quick and to be able to be a little better at it is definitely comforting for me."
Once he gets his wheels going, he could be even more dangerous. When Septimo was pitching in the eighth, Crawford drew his attention over at first base by taking a sizable lead. The lagging prompted the reliever to fire a bevy off pick-off attempts.
While Crawford ultimately didn't swipe second, his distracting presence may have resulted in David Ortiz's walk and, subsequently, Gonzalez's three-run blast.
Crawford understands those contributions will be vital to where Boston finishes this season. For now, he says his mind is clear — save for concerns about his elbow — and believes it could snowball into further success.
"I'm a big part of the puzzle that was supposed to help them win the championship," Crawford said. "So, you know, I want to get back out there and try to help. Looking at it that way, you want to get back out there as fast as you can."
One game into his 2012 season, the confidence is coming back.