Great catch: Crawford grabs All-Star MVP award

Jul 15, 2009 - 7:28 AM By MIKE FITZPATRICK AP Baseball Writer

ST. LOUIS(AP) -- Carl Crawford helped carry Tampa Bay from the American League basement to an improbable pennant.

It's only fitting that he became the first All-Star MVP in franchise history.

Crawford made a sensational catch at a crucial time Tuesday night, robbing Brad Hawpe of a go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of the American League's 4-3 victory over the NL at Busch Stadium.

"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 defense. You can bring that to the field every day."

His leap over the 8-foot fence in left field earned Crawford an MVP award that's named for Ted Williams.

"It feels great. They totally got me off guard today. I didn't think I was going to win it," Crawford said. "I'm just so happy, I don't really know what to say. I just hope I can come back many times and try to win it again."

Crawford also became the first position player to win MVP honors at the All-Star game without scoring a run or driving one in.

Instead, he took a run away.

"Defense wins championships and tonight we proved that defense wins All-Star games as well," said Boston reliever Jonathan Papelbon, who threw the pitch to Hawpe and wound up with the win. "Obviously, it was a game-changing play. He won MVP because of that play and deservedly so."

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 his first time up before finishing 1 for 3.

Statistics show Crawford is one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. But curiously, he's never won a Gold Glove.

This could be the catch that clinches one.

"He hit it pretty good off the bat and I didn't think it was going to carry that far," Crawford said. "I don't think I've ever robbed a home run before, so I picked a good time to do it tonight."

The 27-year-old Crawford is best known for his dazzling speed - he leads the majors with 44 stolen bases. But he's developed into a fine all-around player, batting .309 with eight homers, 39 RBIs and 58 runs for the defending AL champions this season.

Drafted by Tampa Bay in 1999, Crawford is the longest-tenured player in club history. So he endured one dreadful season after another until the Rays' remarkable turnaround last year.

The team has a $10 million option on his contract next season with a $1.25 million buyout.

"I've been talking to everybody all year about this. Carl, he has become a better baseball player since I first met him in 2006," said AL manager Joe Maddon of the Rays. "He's a better defender, a better thrower, a better baserunner, a better base stealer, and it's all because of his work."

A three-sport star in high school, Crawford was so talented that he considered playing basketball at UCLA or option quarterback for Nebraska.

But he stuck with baseball, and it's proved to be a smart choice. His outstanding catch helped the AL improve to 12-0-1 in the last 13 All-Star games - including seven straight victories.

Asked if the key grab Tuesday night was his best ever, Crawford was quick to respond.

"It's got to be the top play," he said. "I was over the wall. It would have been a home run."

Waiting near the mound to receive his award, Crawford got warm hugs from several Tampa Bay teammates, including first baseman Carlos Pena.

Even his own manager was impressed.

"I've never seen him do that. The way he got to the position on the ball was great. And the catch, obviously, was fantastic," Maddon said.

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