ST. LOUIS — All a player can ask for is a moment. A specific place and time locked away in memory.
Records are wonderful, and awards terrific, but moments occupy a special place in our ongoing love affair with athletes. They are what we remember forever of legends and lore.
So you recall the centerfielder making an over-the-shoulder catch. Or the baserunner bowling over a catcher. Or a hitter waving a home run fair. And maybe, just maybe, a leftfielder reaching over a fence to prevent a home run.
This was Carl Crawford's moment. And, as it turns out, this was his All-Star Game.
With the score tied and the drama building, the Rays leftfielder went above the fence and snatched a ball out of the air. Just like that, a game changed. Homefield advantage in the World Series changed. And perhaps the legacy of a player changed.
Crawford was named the Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game, the first to win the award without an RBI since Willie Mays in 1968.
And before he could even reach his locker, the Hall of Fame had already taken the hat from his head. But the award is incidental, and the Hall of Fame memorabilia is just a detail. It is the memory that will endure.
"Every year when they play the All-Star videos, you are going to see that catch," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Has there ever been a better All-Star Game catch? A more meaningful one? That catch may have saved a game."
If you could look beyond the leftfield wall, you will see Rays bullpen coach Bobby Ramos. He is screaming as Crawford approaches the fence. "You have room," Ramos shouts again and again. And just before Crawford leaps, Ramos takes a step back and watches in awe.
"When I saw that he made the catch, I just said, 'Oh my God.' What an unbelievable moment. What an unbelievable (expletive) catch," Ramos said. "This guy is going to get 3,000 hits, he's going to steal bases, he's going to have Hall of Fame numbers when he's finished.
"People are going to know what C.C. can do."
Bullpen catcher Scott Cursi had just left his seat to use the restroom when the ball was hit, and he froze for a moment because he thought the ball was headed right at him.
"When he jumped, you could actually see his glove was on the other side of the fence when he caught the ball," he said. "It was a home run, and he pulled it back."
If you could look in the stands on the third-base side between home plate and the dugout, you will see a little boy wearing a Crawford jersey jumping up and down in his seat. The hour was late and the crowd was wild, and maybe 5-year-old Justin Crawford didn't fully comprehend the impact, but he understood he had just seen something special.
"He had his hands in the air jumping up and down yelling, 'Go Daddy, go Daddy,' " said Crawford's brother, Cory. "This is the greatest moment in his career. Some of the greats who have played the game have never won an All-Star Game MVP."
If you could look in the AL dugout, you will see millionaires hugging and shouting like they were on the playgrounds of their youth. The game means homefield advantage in the World Series, but it means something else to those who have invested themselves in the outcome.
"When he caught that ball, everyone in the dugout had their arms up in the air going, 'Yeeaahhh,' " said Rays teammate Ben Zobrist. "That's a game-saving catch in the All-Star Game."
If you could look at the man heading toward second, you will see a mixture of disappointment and disbelief. Colorado outfielder Brad Hawpe thought he had just authored his signature moment. He thought he had just taken his best shot at All-Star Game MVP.
Instead, he watched as Crawford went up and his own dreams crashed down.
"I knew it was a good catch," Hawpe said. "It always is every time you have to go to the wall. What a play he made."
If you could see what Carl Crawford could see, you would know what was about to come. From the time the ball left Hawpe's bat, Crawford said he was locked in on its path. He could not hear the screams of more than 40,000. He could not hear Ramos shouting behind him. He could think of nothing else but keeping that ball from landing on the other side of the fence.
"I knew it was going to be close. I knew I had room. All I was thinking about was making sure I timed the jump right," Crawford said. "Whenever you get to this stage, you want to do something good."
He has spent his entire career in a market that does not draw well and, before last season, had not known a winner. He has played in the shadow of teammates with bigger profiles. Yet for the better part of a decade, Crawford has been one of the finest leftfielders in the game. He has made it to three All-Star Games, and even has a home run on his All-Star resume.
And now, after Tuesday night, Crawford has a signature moment. He has a catch that will last forever.
John Romano can be reached at [email protected]