FORT MYERS — Carl Crawford said his body cringed every time he started to see a replay of the final moment of his forgettable first season with the Red Sox.
As much as Crawford tried to change the channel, seeing the sinking liner hit by the Orioles' Robert Andino fall in front of him in leftfield — sealing Boston's historic September collapse — was unavoidable.
"It was over and over, like Linsanity almost," Crawford said, comparing it with the current massive attention on Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin.
The play symbolized Crawford's frustrating 2011 season, the worst and most trying of his 10-year career. A four-time All-Star with the Rays, Crawford was a shell of himself in the first of a seven-year, $142 million deal with Boston. He hit .255 with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and just 18 steals. His .289 on-base percentage was 70th among 73 qualified AL batters.
"My play, it was so bad that I couldn't even think straight," he said.
Crawford was booed. He was dropped in the order. He was irked when owner John Henry said in an October radio interview he initially didn't favor signing him. Dealing with significant failure for the first time, Crawford even questioned his ability.
"It was probably one of the hardest things I've ever been through," he said. "I don't know how I got through it. It was just bad. I hope I never have to go through anything like that again."
Crawford cleared his head and fixed his mechanics and is hungry for a fresh start, though he might miss the first couple of weeks of the season due to left wrist surgery. Feeling he's more prepared and comfortable in his second Red Sox camp, Crawford learned from a season in which everything seemingly went wrong.
His stance was "way off track," more open than his years with the Rays, when he hit over .300 five times. After two games with Boston — 0-for-7 with four strikeouts — Crawford was dropped from his No. 2 spot to seventh. Instead of being the table-setter and terror on the bases, he pressed, trying to live up to the huge deal.
"The contract, you hit .150 in the month of April, dropped down to seven, you got every publications writing stuff about you, it was all bad at one time," Crawford, 30, said. "I just lost it mentally."
As the Red Sox lost their grip on a nine-game lead over the Rays for the wild card, Crawford wrote for ESPNBoston that he'd be "devastated" if Boston didn't make the playoffs.
Crawford watched the Rays — who also lost, among others, Carlos Peña and most of their bullpen from 2010 — in the playoffs, praising them and manager Joe Maddon, especially "with the expectations that they weren't supposed to make it after all of us left."
Crawford said his family, including 8-year-old son Justin, served as his "backbone" during his struggles, but he is invigorated by his offseason workouts.
"You start to realize that everything is still there," he said. "The speed is still there. You start to gain confidence again and get back to where I'm at now, which is feeling good about yourself and letting everything that happened last year be in the past."
Crawford said he likes new manager Bobby Valentine, comparing him to Maddon in how he focuses on fundamentals, the "little things," and likes to teach. And he's motivated to have his play remind him of his Tampa Bay days, too.
"That's what I worked this offseason, to get back to 'that guy,' " Crawford said with a smile.
"Because that's, obviously, the guy they paid for."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.