On baseball

On this afternoon, they connected

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / May 26, 2011

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CLEVELAND — They are so different, but yesterday they were so much alike.

Drew Sutton is the minor league guy trying to find something in his game that will allow him to remain in the bigs. In the clubhouse, he struggled to zip up a bag that was overloaded in part because of the five gloves he carries, reflecting the utility role he plays for the Red Sox — and the reason that he may be of value to them or another team.

For now, he’s happy just to be earning the pro-rated $414,000 major league minimum.

On the other end of the spectrum is Carl Crawford, the multimillionaire superstar who hasn’t lived up to his billing and is trying to justify his enormous paycheck.

Crawford, who will average a little more than $20 million a season for the next seven years, looked more like the Carl Crawford everyone was so excited about. He went 4 for 4, knocked in two runs, and scored three.

The two different players combined for seven of Boston’s 20 hits in a 14-2 win over Cleveland.

For at least one day, they existed in the same baseball world, striving for the same things. Sutton went 3 for 5 and stroked two doubles as an emergency starter at third base when Kevin Youkilis was scratched with a sore hand.

A night earlier, Sutton had shown some range at second base, moving to the hole to snare a grounder that seemed to be behind him, though he couldn’t make the throw in time.

Sutton got a lot of playing time in spring training, and he was a guy you definitely noticed because he hits from both sides of the plate and plays all over the infield. When camp broke, Sutton, 27, was outrighted to Pawtucket, where he also played some outfield, increasing his value.

The Baylor graduate was drafted by the Astros in 2004 and has seen time in the majors with the Reds and Indians.

“I guess I’m mostly a second baseman,’’ he said, “but at this stage of my career, I’m not going to be a starter, so I have to keep proving that I can be a utilityman at the major league level.

“You get to certain stages in your career where you have to cross a hurdle. I think I can be a utility player for someone and get a few years in the big leagues. Guys like Geoff Blum and Eric Bruntlett have made nice careers out of being that.

“What I have to be able to do is get to the point where the right team says, ‘You know what? He’s more than just a Triple A player who can play a bunch of positions. He can do this in the majors on a consistent basis.’ ’’

Sutton said shortstop and third base are the toughest positions to play if you don’t do it regularly.

“Balls come off harder at short and third,’’ he said. “If you don’t have that good first step, you can look pretty silly. Playing third today is as good as anywhere else. You’re never going to feel comfortable anywhere. Just try to make the routine plays and not screw things up too badly.’’

Crawford went through a stage in which everyone was offering advice. And a stage in which he kept talking about how bad his swing was. He eventually grew tired of the questions and started keeping to himself more.

Terry Francona has stuck with him, using him in several positions in the batting order.

“I’m just trying to have good at-bats,’’ said Crawford. “I definitely feel better than what I did before. I just have to take that for what it is.

“Just feels good to win a game, to help contribute. I don’t really know what to say about myself personally. We won the game. It feels nice to help do something in the game where I can contribute.’’

Crawford, who was elevated from eighth to sixth in the order with Youkilis and J.D. Drew missing, was taken out of the game following his fourth at-bat. Francona likes to do that so players feel good about their day.

Crawford needed a triple for the cycle and said he thought about it before his last at-bat, on which he doubled to left-center.

For the series, Crawford went 6 for 11 with 6 runs, 2 homers, and 6 RBIs. He has improved his average to .229, the highest it’s been this season.

Asked what has changed, he said, “I don’t know. I just feel a little bit better. I just don’t like dissecting it too much because that’s what got me in trouble earlier. Just trying not to give every little detail of my swing. I just feel better.’’

Crawford says he doesn’t care where he hits. He has mostly been a No. 2 hitter, but that spot is reserved for Pedroia. He doesn’t buy the fact that hitting in the lower third of the order takes pressure off him.

“I’ve been playing with pressure my whole career, so I can’t say it’s helped me,’’ he said. “I just try to look for anything positive to help me get to the next day. It’s definitely a game I can build off of.’’

Nobody was more thrilled for Crawford than Francona, who tries his best not to overly encourage a struggling player.

“I think he cares so much,’’ said the manager. “You can only give so many pats on the back. The important thing is being consistent. If you pat them too much, they get scared. Be consistent. We believe in him and I know he believes in himself.’’

There may come a day when Crawford doesn’t even remember Sutton playing with him on this day, but you can bet Sutton will remember Crawford.

For two guys who have struggled for very different reasons, they each had a special day.

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

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