Red Sox fans may have thought they were seeing a carefree Carl Crawford this week.
The long-sidelined outfielder came back to the big leagues with aplomb, going 4-for-7 with three stolen bases and giving the Boston offense an aggressive look in his first two games back.
But as Crawford tells it, Monday and Tuesday weren’t a time to settle in and have fun — they were the deciding factor in whether this season would be as big of a bust as last year was.
Crawford told WEEI.com on Tuesday night that he’s still smarting over the way then-Red Sox manager Terry Francona treated him last year, when Crawford was bumped into the No. 7 spot in the batting order after two poor games.
"I need to do something, and I need to do something quick," he said of his approach coming into Monday and Tuesday’s game, according to WEEI.com. "And I need to make an impact on this game quick, and I don’t need to wait until tomorrow. That was my playoff game — the first game."
Crawford was 0-for-7 in his first two games last year, when the Red Sox scuffled to an 0-6 start, and he never got comfortable in the Boston lineup.
Pilloried by fans as his batting average (.255) dropped, injuries cropped up and the team missed the playoffs, Crawford had as bad of a year as he could expect after signing a seven-year, $142 million free agent contract in the offseason.
As Crawford sees it, it all began with what happened after those first games. He said he was "cheated out of" a "getting-used-to-type period."
He told WEEI.com: "Every game you really have to try and show something. But I’m always going to remember those two days. … 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."
Francona ended up leaving as part of the Red Sox’s remodeling after last season’s late collapse, but Crawford’s rehabilitation would take longer.
First, he had to deal with offseason injuries. Then, when the Red Sox picked Bobby Valentine as their new manager, questions arose over whether Valentine would be able to nurture the recovering star after Valentine had openly criticized Crawford while an analyst with ESPN.
But Crawford, who has always sounded optimistic about turning his situation around, said he and Valentine worked to get on the same page.
"We talked right before spring, and that kind of eased things a little bit," Crawford told WEEI.com.
Crawford said both men had judged each other without knowing the situation completely, and they "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," Crawford said.
"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."
Crawford also said he was grateful for how Valentine has handled his injury rehabilitation, including getting the training staff to keep up with his progress.
That all paid off Monday and Tuesday nights, as Crawford provided the very jolt the Red Sox were expecting when they first lured the speedy outfielder away from Tampa Bay.
What a difference one year — or a manager? — can make.