Tampa Bay's Crawford in fast lane

BOB ELLIOTT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:01 PM ET

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The most disruptive base runner in the American League.

"Carl Crawford," said Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston. "I think we should just cut him off at the pass when he gets on ... throw the ball to third."

The Tampa Bay Rays left fielder comes with baggage. Despite his speed he doesn't want to hit leadoff.

Yet, once into the batter's box or on base he packs light, quick as a bunny 'wabbit' as Elmer Fudd used to say. He has a career high 59 stolen bases, three behind Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox for the AL lead.

"The toughest guy for me to throw out might have been Juan Pierre when he was with Colorado or Ichiro Suzuki," catcher Rod Barajas said. "Crawford would be there with them. I've seen him steal on pitch outs.

"He causes catchers to hurry. He causes pitchers to hurry and then it's ball one, ball two and then a hanger."

Earlier this season Barajas threw out Crawford attempting to steal on a 3-0 pitch.

"The 3-0 is a great time to steal because some pitchers will ease up, thinking the guy is taking and the pitcher is focused on getting the pitch in the zone," Barajas said. "Roy's not extremely fast to the plate and he's not extremely slow. He gives you a chance."

Hall of Fame manger Dick Williams fell in love with the running game because he reasoned a pitcher or a hitter can have a bad day, but speed never has an off day.

"Speed changes everything," Jays second baseman Aaron Hill said. "It affects where we are on double-play depth. We have to shorten up. It's not just Crawford, but B.J. Upton, Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist."

As third base coach of Whitey Herzog's St. Louis Cardinals -- 248 steals when they reached the 1987 World Series -- Jays third base coach Nick Leyva knows a thing about speed.

"Crawford is in that elite category with Vince Coleman," Leyva said of the Cards outfielder who three times stole 100 bases. "Vince was at full speed in two steps. They say you can't teach speed, you can't teach that acceleration."

Pitchers are supposed to be quicker than 1.2 seconds to the plate and catchers have to catch the ball and get rid of it in 1.9 seconds. Combined total 3.1 seconds. And then a catcher has to make a good throw.

"When we were in Oakland they honoured Ricky Henderson and I was talking to him," hitting coach Gene Tenace said. "I said Rickey all the teams have stop watches now. Rickey said: 'Don't matter, Rickey would run faster.'

"I told him more guys use the slide step now and Rickey said: 'Don't matter, Rickey would run faster.' "

Rick Langford, who won 19 games in 1980 for the Oakland A's is subbing this weekend for Bruce Walton as bullpen coach, wasn't bothered by many base stealers.

"Being left-handed and having a good move, I didn't have too many guys upset me," Langford said.

"I saw Rickey unsettle a few. In 1982, he flopped hard into the base for the record (130). Pulled it out with one hand and lifted it over his head. Those things are not only heavy but they are awkward to handle.

"All the times he slid head first on those steals, plus when he slid and the ball was fouled back, or going first to third, it had to have taken a horrible pounding on his body."

In the 1989 American League Championship Series he stole second standing against Ernie Whitt, stopping at 88 feet and gazing in at Whitt.

"Bobby Bonds could steal 'em standing," Gaston said. "Outside of managing Rickey, I've never seen anyone like Crawford."

This was before Crawford had four hits last night.

BOB.ELLIOTT@SUNMEDIA.CA


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