By Sean McAdam
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When the Red Sox signed free agent outfielder Carl Crawford to a landmark seven-year, 142 million contract last December, it was an extraordinary investment, the second-largest deal the franchise had ever given.
The Sox were motivated to spend as much as they did because of Crawford's unique skill set, which features virtually unmatched speed and defense.
But surely, it must have been more than a passing thought to Red Sox executives that the commitment would almost be worth it just knowing that the Sox would never again have to watch Crawford torment them as an opponent.
In eight seasons, playing the Red Sox as often as 19 times during the regular season, Crawford wore out the Red Sox, particularly on the bases. Over that time, Crawford successfully stole 62 bases in 66 tries, including 35 steals in a row without being thrown out.
Now, that's someone else's problem.
If you can't beat him, sign him.
"All the things that use to aggravate us when he was in a Tampa uniform,'' said Terry Francona, "hopefully will excite us now that he's in a Red Sox uniform."
Told that Crawford and catcher Jason Varitek had jokingly "buried the hatchet,'' now that they are teammates, Francona cracked: "I still have some animosity. He looks awfully good in our uniform, though. When he walked in today, I said, 'It's amazing how you can hate somebody so much when they were in a different (uniform) and then fall in love with him when he's in your (uniform).''
Indeed, Crawford seemed to save his best for games against the Red Sox. In his rookie season, he hit a walkoff homer off Chad Fox to beat the Sox on Opening Day of 2003, and only last season, stole six bases against them in a single game.
Recalling the six-steal game, Francona said: "It felt like he was going right from first to third, not even (stopping) at second.''
After competing against the Sox for the last eight seasons, the transition from Tampa to Boston is a sizeable one and Crawford may take some time making the adjustment.
"Yesterday,'' said Crawford, "walking into the clubhouse (for the first time), it was new for me. I thought I was ready for it but I still really wasn't. Today, I felt a little more comfortable and I figure as each day goes along, I'll feel comfortable.
"It's a new group of people. I've seen those guys playing on the other side a lot, but it's different when you're actually in the clubhouse with them...I got really comfortable (in Tampa). I knew everything - the little ins-and-outs. Now, I've got to figure everything out again.''
Reminded that his stolen base totals might decline precipitiously because he no longer will get the chance to run against the Red Sox, Crawford blushed some, laughed and said: "I don't think so. I try to get as many as I can every year. That's my goal -- to put pressure on the other team, steal as many bags and get into scoring position.''
He later added that when he saw Varitek recently in Boston, they hugged.
"I let him know, 'I'm on your side now, so you don't have to worry about that anymore,' '' Crawford said.
Later, Varitek told reporters that having Crawford as a teammate would, by definition, extend his career.
Though the Rays didn't have a winning season in their history until 2008, a rivalry between Tampa and Boston developed and grew in recent seasons. It wasn't nearly as intense as the long-standing Red Sox-Yankee rivalry, but it had its moments.
"Over time, we built up a little rivalry,'' said Crawford. "We wanted to beat the Red Sox really bad.''
Crawford's success rate on the bases against the Red Sox almost became a joke. First baseman Kevin Youkilis said earlier this week that Crawford at times told Youkilis when he was going to take off for second, comforted by the knowledge that not even advance warning could stop him from succeeding.
"I don't want to say I told him that,'' said a chuckling Crawford. "Maybe I would say some things to throw him off. It was just a little friendly banter. He knew what I was trying to do and I knew what he was trying to do.''
Now, Crawford will be Youkilis' teammate, trying to beat the Rays the way he once tried to beat the Red Sox. It won't take long for Crawford to meet up with his former team -- the Rays come to Boston in mid-April for the second home series of the season.
"It's going to be fun,'' he said. "It's going to be highly competitive because I know that they're going to try to beat us and we're going to do the same. It should (make for) some interesting games.''
Now, with one twist: Let the other team worry about Carl Crawford.