Crawford's catch in 7th clinches award

ST. LOUIS -- Carl Crawford raced back to the left-field fence and leaped, his glove barely extending over the 8-foot wall.

For a moment, everyone waited. And then the Tampa Bay Rays speedster raised his mitt for all to see -- yup, he caught it!

Crawford made a timely grab and snatched the All-Star Game MVP award Tuesday night, robbing Brad Hawpe of a go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of the American League's 4-3 victory over the NL.

"He hit it pretty good off the bat and I didn't think it was going to carry that far," Crawford said. "I don't think I've ever robbed a home run before, so I picked a good time to do it tonight."

Making his third All-Star appearance, Crawford was elected by his fellow players as a reserve. He came off the bench as a pinch hitter in the fifth and singled his first time up before finishing 1 for 3.

Statistics show Crawford is one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. But curiously, he's never won a Gold Glove.

This could be the catch that clinches one.

"Defense wins championships and tonight we proved that defense wins All-Star Games as well," said winner Jonathan Papelbon, who threw the pitch to Hawpe. "Obviously, it was a game-changing play. He won MVP because of that play and deservedly so."

The 27-year-old Crawford is best known for his dazzling speed -- he leads the majors with 44 stolen bases. But he's developed into fine all-around player, batting .309 with eight homers, 39 RBIs and 58 runs for the AL champion Rays this year.

A three-sport star in high school, Crawford was so talented that he considered playing basketball at UCLA or option quarterback for Nebraska.

But he stuck with baseball, and it's proved to be a great choice. His outstanding catch helped the AL improve to 12-0-1 in the last 13 All-Star Games -- including seven straight victories.

"The ball was so high in the air, it gave me time to get back to the wall," Crawford said. "That's part of my game, playing defense. You can bring that to the field every day."

Asked if the catch Tuesday night was his best ever, Crawford was quick to respond.

"It's got to be the top play," he said. "I was over the wall. It would have been a home run."

Waiting near the mound to receive his award, Crawford received warm hugs from several Tampa Bay teammates, including first baseman Carlos Pena.

Even his own manager was impressed.

"I've never seen him do that. The way he got to the position on the ball was great. And the catch, obviously, was fantastic," said AL skipper Joe Maddon of the Rays.

"I've been talking to everybody all year about this. Carl, he has become a better baseball player since I first met him in 2006. He's a better defender, a better thrower, a better baserunner, a better base stealer, and it's all because of his work," he added. "It's because of him. His work ethic is that good."

Now, he's the first Tampa Bay player to win the All-Star MVP award, which is named for Ted Williams.

"It feels great. They totally got me off guard today. I didn't think I was going to win it," Crawford said. "I'm just so happy, I don't really know what to say. I just hope I can come back many times and try to win it again."