LOS ANGELES -- Carl Crawford can smile again.
The Dodgers outfielder is back at the top of his game, as he showcased in the National League Division Series triumph over the Braves.
Crawford bounced back from a rough start to the NLDS with a three-run homer and a spectacular catch Sunday in Game 3, followed by a pair of homers and a stolen base Monday in Game 4 to help the Dodgers win the series.
After two rough years with the Red Sox, Crawford has rediscovered his All-Star form in his first season playing for the Dodgers.
"It's fun to be able to smile again and play good," Crawford said after his clutch performance in Game 4. "Just to be able to play the game that you grew up loving and not have to worry about so much other stuff. It feels good to just be able to play baseball and smile."
Crawford worried about a lot of things that were out of his control in Boston. He missed significant time with injuries and didn't do much smiling.
Those dark days seem long gone now that Crawford is making an impact this October. In addition to his home run barrage in the NLDS, he drove in five runs and scored another five.
"Carl Crawford has been tremendous," said Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti. "To see what he's done in this series is great. I'm happy for him because the crowd loves him. He's turned it up big time with big hits."
Colletti always knew Crawford was capable of changing an entire postseason series.
"Two years ago, when he was a free agent, he was one of the most sought-after free agents in a long, long time," Colletti said. "He's got power. He's got speed. He plays good defense. He can do a lot of different things. To see him start to feel good about who he is and everything else, I think it's great."
The Dodgers didn't have the funds to sign Crawford when he became a free agent after the 2010 season. But when Guggenheim Baseball Management bought the team in 2012, Colletti had the necessary resources to improve the Dodgers. The stars aligned last August and the Red Sox dealt Crawford, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, starting pitcher Josh Beckett and infielder Nick Punto to Los Angeles.
Crawford had Tommy John surgery on his left elbow only days before the blockbuster trade, but the Dodgers felt he still had a chance to be an impact player and figured a change of scenery would help.
"That was some of it. Sometimes, where somebody is doesn't work," Colletti said. "And then they have a chance to make a difference some other place. And we thought that was a possibility."
Crawford has certainly made a difference this year. He hit .283 in the regular season, with 30 doubles, six homers, 31 RBIs, 15 steals and 62 runs scored in 116 games. The Dodgers were 59-40 when Crawford started.
"We've loved him all year," said team president Stan Kasten. "He's been a factor whenever he's been healthy. He's been a real catalyst for our team now that he's healthy in the postseason. He's bringing power, which is just an extra dimension that we're going to be able to really use."
This isn't the first time Crawford has been a factor in October. In 2008, he hit .345 in the American League Championship Series to help the Rays beat the Red Sox. Crawford kept it up in the World Series, scoring four runs and going deep twice in five games against the Phillies.
In the 2008 ALCS, Crawford had three hits off Beckett and drove in two runs. But that was nothing new for Crawford, who holds a .302 career average against the right-hander.
"I remember how scary of a player he was," Beckett said, "because you don't want to walk him, so you kind of have to give in, particularly if the umpire is calling strikes as strikes. He can put athletic swings on things. He's a great player. He's getting an opportunity right now to go out and just be him. He's doing well with it."
If his 2008 postseason was any indication, Crawford is just getting warmed up for the rest of these playoffs.
"He's hungry, and he wants to win a World Series and get to that next level," said Matt Kemp, himself learning what it's like to deal with a number of injuries. "I'm happy for him."
Crawford is happy, too, for the first time in quite a while.
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less