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As far as confidence-inspiring phrases go, there’s the opening riff to “Eye of the Tiger” and Gene Hackman in Hoosiers at the top of the list. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, there’s “I feel the pressure” and “whether I’m ready or not.”
Those latter two are direct quotes from Carl Crawford regarding his return to the Red Sox on Monday after one last rehab stint (how many times have we heard those words?) at Pawtucket.
As if Red Sox fans didn’t already have little enough confidence in their 142 million dollar man.
Luckily, I wasn’t holding my breath for a second-half surge from the Red Sox, anyway. Sure, the so-called “varsity” players (really, Larry Lucchino?) are coming back from the disabled list. Yes, it’ll be nice to have last year’s MVP runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury atop the lineup instead of Mike Aviles’s .285 on-base percentage, or even a (generous) 5’10” career minor leaguer (even if it’s on-base machine Daniel Nava). But what hope am I supposed to hold onto for a team that could barely make it to the season’s midway point at an even .500?
Theoretically, the return of the Crawford of old might have given me a faint glimmer of optimism after the All-Star break: batting .296 for his career with yearly averages of nearly 200 hits (counting 13 triples and 14 home runs), 77 RBIs, and over 50 stolen bases (and that’s including his miserable 2011 campaign). We’re talking about a 4-time All-Star just two years removed from a 6.6 wins above replacement (WAR) season.
Of course, it’s hard to remember the Crawford who terrorized the Red Sox with the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays after watching him last season: .255 BA, 129 hits, 56 RBIs, 18 stolen bases, 0.0 WAR. That’s right. Zero wins above replacement. In case you’re wondering, the average bench player is supposed to be at 1 or 2 WAR at season’s end. Zero? That’s your average Triple-A call-up. Add in the number of flailing swings to strike out on a ball in the dirt, and it was hard to for Red Sox fans like myself to buy into any sort of hype regarding Crawford’s return, regardless of whether or not he was supposed to be starting in left field at the beginning of the season.
Then Crawford went ahead and served up the most flammable of media fodder when there was literally nothing going on in the world of baseball. To quote from WEEI:
“I feel the pressure of everybody wanting me to be out there,” he answered. “I want to be out there, fans want me to be out there, management, everybody, kind of a mixture of all that.”
“If I feel like I can go out there and contribute and help the team, really help the team, then I’ll make a decision that I can be out there. That’s the day we picked, whether I’m ready or not. I’ll be out there, hopefully.”
Truly inspiring words for a fan base desperate for hope.
Of course, Ellsbury has collected three hits in his first two games back, Pedro Ciriaco has played out of his mind, Will Middlebrooks is back in uniform with a home run, and Dustin Pedroia seems to be sizzling before he’s even eligible to come off the DL. So who’s to say Crawford can’t provide a spark out of left field for the second half of the season?
A .500 record? Common sense? Pssshhh. Maybe in the real world. But I’m a Red Sox fan, and the only way I know how to survive is to grasp onto the smallest shred of irrational hope and hang on for dear life until anything — even a Crawford-inspired playoff run — seems possible.