ST LOUIS // A timely grab by Carl Crawford helped him to the All-Star MVP award on Tuesday. What's more, it earned his American League (AL) side a 4-3 victory over the National League (NL) in the All-Star game. In what turned out to be a crucial play in the context of the game, Crawford robbed Brad Hawpe of a go-ahead homer in the seventh inning. "He [Hawpe] hit it pretty good off the bat and I didn't think it was going to carry that far," the Tampa Bay Rays player said.
"I don't think I've ever even robbed a home run before. Picked a good time to do it tonight." Crawford raced back to the left-field fence and leaped, his glove barely extending over the 8ft wall. For a moment, everyone waited. And then the Tampa Bay player raised his mitt for all to see - he had caught it. Making his third All-Star appearance, Crawford was elected by his fellow players as a reserve. He came off the bench as a pinch- hitter in the fifth and singled almost immediately.
Statistics show Crawford is one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. Strangely, he has never won a Gold Glove. This could be the catch that clinches one. "Defence wins championships and tonight we proved that defence wins All-Star games as well," said winning pitcher Jonathan Papelbon, who threw the pitch to Hawpe. "It was a game-changing play. He won MVP because of that play and deservedly so."
Crawford, 27, is best known for his speed and leads the majors with 44 stolen bases. But he has developed into fine all-round player, batting .309 with eight homers, 39 RBIs and 58 runs for the AL champion Rays this year. A three-sport star in high school, Crawford was so talented that he considered playing basketball at UCLA or quarterback for Nebraska. But he stuck with baseball, and it has proved to be a great choice. His catch helped AL improve in the last 13 All-Star games, including seven consecutive victories.
"The ball was so high in the air, it gave me time to get back to the wall," Crawford said. "That's part of my game, playing defence." Asked if the catch on Tuesday night was his best, Crawford said. "It's got to be the top play. I was over the wall. It would have been a home run." Waiting near the mound to receive his award, Crawford received warm hugs from several Tampa Bay teammates. "Carl has become a better baseball player since I first met him in 2006," said AL captain Joe Maddon.