Crawford’s Speed: If Not Now …. When?

“Superior Baserunner and Game Changing Speed!” That line is etched across the bill of sale that the Red Sox received after they signed Carl Crawford. But if that moniker is truthful, can someone tell me why – when the Red Sox needed Crawford to change a game last night with his speed – he was sitting on second in the top of the eighth instead of crossing the plate with the game tying run?

Here is the simple reset. Two outs in the 8th. Brett Anderson has stifled the Sox all night. Boston is down a run and Crawford stands at first with Saltalamacchia at the plate. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Boston’s chances of tying that game would have been greatly helped if Crawford could have swiped second.

But Crawford was eighty feet from second when Salty lined a 1-2 pitch to left-center to keep the inning alive. Without a doubt, the single would have scored Crawford and tied the game so the question I put to Crawford and Terry Francona is …. Given Anderson’s brilliance last night, what the hell was Crawford still doing at first?

The math here is rather simple. By keeping Crawford at first, he could score on either an extra base hit or two consecutive hits. Given the fact that Salty is hitting .180 and over his career, only a third of his hits go for extras, it stands to reason that he wasn’t likely to get the job done alone. So basically, without a steal, the Sox needed consecutive hits from a .180 hitter and a .140 hitter (McDonald) to tie the game. Or they could bank on Crawford to steal second and score if Salty delivered.

Now some, like Comcast’s Sean McAdam, think Brett Anderson’s tough pickoff move had something to do with Crawford staying put. But this argument strikes me as a weak hanging curve. Listen, people have stolen bases off Brett Anderson. It can be done. And a guy like Crawford – an 82 percent career base stealer – should have a decent shot. Maybe not an 82 percent shot. But something north of 50 and that is a lot better than the odds McDonald would come through with a game tying hit. (Assuming Salty managed to get on)

I’m not sure how to divvy up all the blame here but Francona clearly deserves a giant scoop. And what bothers me, and has me a little concerned, is this thought that Francona doesn’t really know how to manage speed. Or at least get the most out of it. Yeah, I know he was sitting on the throne while Ellsbury swiped 70 bags in 2009. But I remain worried that Francona is really a “three-run bomb” guy at heart. And this is a problem when a big part of your team’s upside is tied up in the legs of Crawford and Ellsbury.

Maybe last night will prove to be the exception but in the back of my mind I worry that the Sox paid up for an asset that the manager doesn’t know how to use or doesn’t feel comfortable using. Last night only reinforced that concern. Hopefully, exculpatory evidence will soon emerge that will ease my worries.

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