PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Carl Crawford says he’s gradually adapting to life with the Boston Red Sox. His latest adjustment was playing against his former team for the first time.
The four-time All-Star returned to the spring home of the Tampa Bay Rays and went 1 for 3 on Thursday during an 8-6 loss to the club he helped win two of the past three AL East championships.
Crawford played nine seasons for the Rays before signing a $142 million, seven-year contract with the Red Sox this winter.
The 2010 Gold Glove winner made a diving catch in left field and said it was good to get the day behind him. As division rivals, the Red Sox and Rays will face each other 18 times during the regular season.
“It’s still baseball when it comes down to it. It’s the same game,” Crawford said. “I just tried to make everything as normal as possible.”
The 29-year-old was the longest-tenured player in Rays history and is the team’s career leader in batting average (.296), RBIs (592), hits (1,480), doubles (215), triples (105), extra-base hits (424), runs scored (765) and stolen bases (409).
He exchanged pleasantries with ex-teammates in the Rays clubhouse, caught up with Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon on the field before the game and received a mixed response from the announced crowd of 7,322 on a wet, windy day at Charlotte Sports Park.
Scattered boos could be heard among the cheers that greeted him when he stepped into the batter’s box in the first inning. By the third time he went to the plate and beat out an infield single in the sixth, there was little reaction from fans.
Not that Crawford was paying much attention.
“I just try to tune them out, so I really didn’t hear too much,” he said. “I kind of figured there would be some things yelled at me, but there really wasn’t much said. They were better than I expected. It really wasn’t bad at all.”
The loudest cheer of the day came when he made a diving catch on Sam Fuld’s sinking liner in left field.
Oscar Tejeda and Drew Sutton homered in the ninth inning, giving Boston a 6-5 lead. Tampa Bay rallied in their half of the ninth, with Casey Kotchman delivering a RBI double before Robinson Chirinos ended it with a one-out homer.
Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka had a rough outing, allowing five runs and five hits in 3 2-3 innings.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s Andy Sonnanstine rebounded from a couple of poor starts to pitch four scoreless innings.
Crawford was one of four Boston regulars — along with Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis and Mike Cameron — to make the trip for the Red Sox, who are scheduled to play the Rays three more times during spring training.
Before the game, he insisted he wasn’t particularly anxious to get the first meeting against his old team out of the way. Afterward, he conceded it was nice to have it behind him.
“Just to see how it would feel … and know kind of what to expect the next time around,” Crawford said.
For the Rays, who signed former Red Sox stars Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to help offset the loss of Crawford and Carlos Pena to free agency, it was strange seeing their ex-teammate up close in Red Sox colors.
“It was difficult,” shortstop Reid Brignac said. “Even talking to him before the game was weird. But he’s a great guy, a true competitor. I wish him the best of luck.”
Crawford said the feeling is mutual.
“I had a great time in Tampa,” he said. “Hopefully, I won’t be considered the villain some people try to make me out to be. I had a lot of fun times. I love the fans, and those are still my boys in the other clubhouse.”