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Crawford’s debut a real dud

Best intentions can’t deny first impression

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 2, 2011

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ARLINGTON, Texas — It gets better, right?

Carl Crawford, $142 million man, No. 3 hitter in the Boston lineup, left fielder extraordinaire, one of the fastest men in baseball — and, oh yeah, 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and five runners left on base yesterday in his Boston debut, a 9-5 loss to the Rangers.

Nobody felt worse about it than Crawford. Though you could see it coming.

Terry Francona decided he was going with Mike Cameron in right field instead of J.D. Drew with tough lefthander C.J. Wilson on the mound, because Drew was 1 for 6 against him.

Crawford came into the game 2 for 12 against Wilson with one home run and four RBIs. But how do you sit the new acquisition on Opening Day? You don’t. You can’t.

And so Crawford continued his misery against Wilson and then struck out in his last at-bat against lefty Arthur Rhodes. None of it was good.

Crawford’s fellow newbie, Adrian Gonzalez, had the reverse kind of day — three RBIs and two hits.

Nobody’s panicking about one bad game. It’s not like years ago when Lee Smith blew Opening Day and the Herald’s back page headline was “Wait ’Til Next Year.’’ It’s just exacerbated by the fact that the two sure things in the Sox’ pitching staff were Jon Lester and Daniel Bard, and neither pitched well yesterday. The good news was Jacoby Ellsbury reached base four times. Gonzalez was superb. David Ortiz shed the no-April thing with a homer. Kevin Youkilis, who had a poor spring, doubled in a run in the first.

So, the guy who stood out was Crawford.

“Just as far as first day in a Red Sox uniform, I was hoping it would be one of those memorable moments and it wasn’t, so I just have to be ready to play tomorrow,’’ said the soft-spoken left fielder.

Crawford had homered once against Wilson on a slider while with Tampa Bay, but he doesn’t recall too much success beyond that. In fact, it was Wilson’s slider that was creating so much havoc yesterday. In the first inning, he lined to shortstop, and then came the strikeouts.

“He’s tough on lefties,’’ Crawford said of Wilson. “He really bore down on us. I think I was trying as hard as I could. I think he did a good job against us. I was probably pressing a little bit, I’m not sure. But, you know, it’s just one of those things where he was tough on me today. You know it wasn’t bad with the nerves or anything, I just had a bad day today.’’

Crawford had all sorts of support from teammates. Ortiz knows a thing or two about struggling early, and went 0 for 3 against Wilson yesterday before he homered off lefty Darren Oliver in the eighth.

Ortiz was asked whether he felt bad for Crawford’s poor Boston debut. “No. It’s the game,’’ he said. “It’s just one game. I guarantee he’s going to have more good days than a day like today.

“Do you believe in the Baseball God? Do you know what the Baseball God is? Sometimes things happen just to show the world that this ain’t easy. Not to him. Just to the whole world. This game doesn’t come easy. You’ve got to keep working and be consistent in the long run, which is going to happen with him.’’

Gonzalez’s good fortune allowed him to walk away with a positive feeling.

In the first inning, after Youkilis doubled home Ellsbury with the first Sox run, Gonzalez singled to right field to score Youkilis — although he was thrown out by a mile trying to stretch the hit into a double.

In the third inning, Gonzalez hit a broken-bat single to shallow center to score a pair of runs.

“With a guy like Wilson, you’re just trying to take what he gives you and hit the ball up the middle, get your singles, don’t try to do too much,’’ Gonzalez said. “That’s the approach I took against him today and fortunately I was able to get a couple of hits. But the bottom line is we lost the game, so it doesn’t matter.’’

Gonzalez then got the steal sign from the bench. As one of baseball’s slowest runners, Gonzalez was a little surprised. Both of his career steals have come against Yorvit Torrealba, his teammate in San Diego last year.

“I had a little fun with him. I said, ‘Both of my stolen bases are against you, that’s why I like you so much,’ ’’ Gonzalez said. “It’s a matter of lefties [like Wilson] not paying attention. When I got the sign, I said, ‘Are you serious? Do you know how slow I am?’ ’’

Gonzalez was also quite supportive of Crawford’s washout day.

“He’s going to come back and have a great season,’’ he said. “One game doesn’t mean anything. He’s a proven player in this league. He’s going to have a lot of great games for us and he’ll help us win.’’

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of hype with this Red Sox team. The expectation is the win total will get into the high 90s and the lineup with run roughshod over the competition. So when one of the stars that the team spent millions on gets off this poorly, it’s newsworthy.

Is it a trend, a sign of things to come for a guy who is now on a bigger stage and is under the incredible watchful eye of Red Sox Nation? We all know that it’s silly to even go there this soon.

And so the thing to say is that we will see better days from Carl Crawford, who fully acknowledged he did not make a good first impression.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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