ST. PETERSBURG — Carl Crawford's season debut in centerfield Monday was certainly an interesting one.
The 26-year-old leftfielder was surprised two hours before the game when told he'd shift to center. Manager Joe Maddon said he wanted to give CF B.J. Upton a day off and get OF Jonny Gomes back into the lineup.
Crawford, who last played center in June 2006, said in pregame that the switch would take him out of his comfort zone and that he wished he would have had a little more notice. But that didn't stop the two-time All-Star from shouldering the blame afterward when talking about a critical defensive lapse in the third, which allowed Royals RF Mark Teahen to score from first on a single.
With Teahen on first with two outs, Ross Gload slapped a single to right-center. Crawford jogged over to scoop it up. But by the time he tossed the ball into the infield, a hustling Teahen, running on a 3-2 count, was rounding third base and attempting to score. The relay throw met Teahen at the plate, but he slid under C Dioner Navarro to put the Royals up 3-2. "We need to be more heads-up in that moment," Maddon said.
"I think I just got a little lackadaisical," Crawford said. "I didn't think he was running. … I tried to get it in, but it was too late. Just a bad effort on my part, probably could have gotten to the ball a little quicker."
Crawford, who made a nice running catch on the warning track later in the game, said part of what affected him on that third-inning play was adjusting to the different approach a centerfielder — with more ground to cover and with home plate farther away — must use.
"I was doing my normal thing that I'd normally be doing in left and forgot I was in center," Crawford said. "In center, you have to be a little more aggressive than what I normally am in left. It came back to bite me a little bit."
Milestone: Crawford became the center of attention in the first inning, when he stole his 300th career base, putting him in elite company. Crawford is one of just nine players since 1900 to steal 300 before turning 27, including Rickey Henderson, Ty Cobb, Tim Raines and Vince Coleman. To complete the feat, Crawford stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by C John Buck. Standing safely on third, Crawford tipped his cap to the crowd, which gave him a standing ovation. "Coming into this thing," Crawford said, "I never thought I'd have that many stolen bases for my whole career."
Role reversal: Players admitted their trip today to Yankee Stadium will be quite a bit different from their last one in mid April. The Yankees, longtime powers in the American League East, are now 81/2 games behind the best-in-the-majors Rays, closer to last place than first. "It's going to be different," ace LHP Scott Kazmir said. "I think the fans are going to be a little more on us compared to the past. It might be kind of mixed a little bit 'cause we've been beating the Red Sox and they like that. But coming into their park, I don't think they'll be too happy to see us ahead of them."
Heads-up play: One of the Rays' best defensive plays Monday came when Navarro turned a botched bunt by ex-Ray Joey Gathright into a double play in the seventh. With a runner on first and nobody out, Gathright popped the bunt up, but the frustrated outfielder didn't leave the batter's box. Noticing that, Navarro let the ball drop and started a 2-6-3 double play. "Any time we get into a bunting situation, I always think about that," Navarro said. "I'm glad it happened to me."
Gathright likely wasn't so glad, judging by the reaction of Royals manager Trey Hillman. "Totally embarrassing, totally unacceptable. If we would have had the help to replace him, I would have replaced him."
Miscellany: Rookie 3B Evan Longoria led the fan voting for the final All-Star spot with the three leading candidates in each league separated by percentage points. Voting ends Thursday on mlb.com. A record 11-million voted on the first day. … 2B Akinori Iwamura extended his hitting streak to 11 games and is batting .333 (16-for-48) during the stretch. … The Rays' 36 home wins were the most as of Monday's date in baseball history.