In this age of information, in which fans can access your salary as easily as your batting average, Carl Crawford is the $142-million man.
Barry Zito can tell you all about that. The amount of dollars sticks to your name like gum, until you win. Zito was the $126-million man, until he breathed life into the dying championship run of the San Francisco Giants last season.
Money comes and money goes, but rings are forever.
Crawford put the Dodgers two big steps closer to jewelry Monday, hitting two home runs in the Dodgers’ National League division series clincher at Dodger Stadium. Juan Uribe hit the game-winner in the 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves, and the Dodgers celebrated late into Monday night.
And why not? They are off until Friday, when the NL championship series opens — in St. Louis if the Cardinals are the opponent, at Dodger Stadium if the Pittsburgh Pirates are the opponent.
The Cardinals and Pirates can sweat through their decisive game on Wednesday. The Dodgers can relax.
“I just want to keep playing well,” Crawford said. “We’ve got two rounds to go.”
This might have been the most unlikely statistic of the series: Crawford has outhomered the Braves.
The Braves led the league in home runs. Crawford hit one home run in the final 131 games of the regular season.
In this series? Crawford 3, Atlanta 1.
He was the second player in Dodgers history to hit a leadoff home run in a postseason game, following Davey Lopes in the 1978 World Series. He also became the first Dodgers player to hit more than one home run in a postseason game since Shawn Green, in the 2004 division series.
In the third inning, after his second home run, Crawford got a curtain call. When he returned to left field for the top of the fourth, he got a standing ovation from the fans in the pavilion. They chanted his name too, in normal rhythm, to celebrate him — not by prolonging the syllables to mock him. That is for Pittsburgh, and perhaps the Dodgers will hear those fans next week.
Crawford came west from Boston, where he heard a lot from the fans, most of it hostile. He had signed with the Red Sox, with that $142-million tag on his back, and then he spent the better part of two years either injured or unproductive.
When the Dodgers acquired him last summer, he came with a modified tag — overpriced, and a bad guy.
“He’s not a bad guy,” said infielder Nick Punto, who came to L.A. along with Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez from the Red Sox. “You’ve got to perform in Boston. If he could have been performing, he would have been a good guy.”
As his first spring training opened with the Dodgers, he called Boston “an environment that was toxic” and said he often regretted signing there. The Dodgers, baseball’s answer to the U.S. Mint, not only swallowed his contract but delivered him from misery. That trade cost the Dodgers half a billion, but happiness is priceless.
As champagne flowed from every direction in the home clubhouse, Dodgers President Stan Kasten threw his arm around Crawford.
“That trade is looking better all the time,” Kasten said.
“It feels good,” Crawford said. “It’s amazing what can happen in a year.”
He could see the Red Sox again, in the World Series. The team that could not wait to get rid of him is one victory from advancing to the American League championship series.
The team that was happy to take him is the first team to advance past a division series. Works for him. Works for L.A. Eight victories to the ring.