by Eric Adler
HARWICH — For Evan Crawford, April was the cruelest month.
So were March and May for that matter.
It was during that period when the sophomore southpaw suffered a spring-long struggle as Auburn University’s weekend starter.
Harwich closer Evan Crawford has a 0.71 ERA, 33 strikeouts in 22.1 innings and four saves for the Mariners this season. ERIC ADLER PHOTO.
“I pretty much got owned,” said Crawford of his forgettable 5-6 season in which his 5.91 ERA ranked second worst among the Tiger’s 12-man pitching staff. “My mechanics were ugly and terrible, and I lost all traces of confidence.”
Flash forward to the present day and Crawford, the Harwich Mariners lights-out late inning stud, has regained his mojo in a major way.
With a 0.71 ERA, 33 strikeouts in 22.1 innings and four saves to his credit, Crawford – a Cape League All-Star – has been a boon for the Mariners out of the bullpen. And all it took was rekindling the little kid inside of him.
“My only goal this summer was to have fun and enjoy baseball again, because things really went downhill for me this season at school,” said Crawford. “I just wanted to play the game like I did when I was 12 years old, and that’s what it’s been like for me this summer. Everything is just falling into place.”
Indeed it is, and has been since Crawford’s Cape League debut when he struck out seven batters over three hitless innings to secure Harwich’s 3-0 victory over the Wareham Gatemen.
“I was feeling the jitters that night,” Crawford confessed. “Having heard of this league, and how good these hitters are, I felt like a little kid at a major league park. I saw these guys as being way better than me, but after that first night, I thought, well, maybe I can hang out for a little bit.”
In his next appearance, and the one after, Crawford sent a stack of batters back to the dugout, further confirming he belongs in a league reserved only for elite college players. But ask him how he accounts for his microscopic ERA, his faculty for tying opponents in knots and his overall summer success, and you get the same answer every time.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” said the smiling and scruffy-faced Crawford, as he shakes his head in amazement at what he’s been able to accomplish. “I watch some of these other guys throw and I wonder how anyone can touch their stuff. My stuff is not anything like that. I don’t even throw all that hard.”
Several foiled batters would disagree, as does Harwich Mariners Field Manager Steve Englert, who spoke enthusiastically about his closer’s capabilities.
“Evan spots up well and can throw his breaking ball for strikes at any time in the count, and that keeps hitters off-balance,” Englert said. “And he has a little bit of velocity at times as well.”
It was Englert’s idea to bring Crawford into the back end of games, a decision that’s paid dividends.
We haven’t had too many wins this season,” said Englert, referencing the Mariners’ last place 12-25-1 record, “but Evan has been a big part of the wins we have had. When we’re ahead we feel like we’ve got a great chance of winning by bringing him in.
“I think he’s found his niche working out of the pen. We have all the confidence in the world in him, no matter if he’s facing a righty or lefty. Some guys tighten up when there’s runners on base, when they’re stuck in a jam and when the game is on the line, but Evan thrives in that situation.”
A native of Prattville, which rests in the heart of Alabama, Crawford’s cool, calm and collected composure has also been a key ingredient in his success.
“High energy Evan is not,” said Englert. “He’s just a laid back country boy who goes out and competes hard. He goes after people, regardless of the situation. Nothing fazes him.”
A recent game against East Division rival Orleans illustrates that point to a T.
With two on and one out in the eighth inning, Crawford came in and gave up an RBI single and subsequently hit a batter. But the unflappable ace buckled down and induced back-to-back ground outs to curtail the Cardinals’ rally. He then struck out the side in the ninth to preserve the 4-1 win.
Finishing games rather than starting them is still a novel concept to Crawford, but he obliges all the same. “Wherever someone decides to play me, I’ll play,” he said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s bat boy or starting pitcher, as long as it’s out on the baseball field.”
It stands to reason that a pitcher who’s developed a reputation for collaring hitters and drawing the curtain on contests possesses an amazing arsenal of pitches. Not Crawford.
“All I throw is a fastball and a curveball,” said Crawford, who noted that in the one instance where he tried to show off his change-up, he nearly got shown up.
“I shook off J.B. [Paxon], and he came out to the mound. I said I feel like a change-up here. J.B. said OK, but if it gets ripped, it’s on you. The guy fouled it off pretty good and J.B. gave me a look that said, that’s you’re last change-up,” said Crawford, with a few laughs.
Sticking with what works, and making it work so well, is what earned Crawford an auspicious All-Star nod.
Crawford was taking photos with his host family when he got the news he’d been selected to play in the mid summer classic, an honor which he said he didn’t see coming (though he may have been the only one). Even better, he got to share the honor with his battery mate and roommate, Kyle Day, the Mariners All-Star catcher. Both were adorned with hugs and kisses from their host mother, Jeannine
“She was really excited,” recalled Crawford. “She was like a proud mama, and her being proud made me proud.”
The Windle family, and the Mariners family, had a lot more to be proud during Saturday’s famed game that drew an estimated 5,600 fans.
Crawford, who pitched the sixth inning in the East’s 3-2 win over the West, gave up a solo home run to James Darnell – the final run scored by either team. But no sooner than cursing himself for the mistake, he laughed it off and retired the next three batters, the first on a swinging strikeout, to redeem himself in a big way.
Working his magic in front of scores of major league scouts likely boosted Crawford life-long aspirations of playing professional baseball. And after the summer he’s had on the Cape, that goal may be realized soon enough.
“Evan has opened up a lot of eyes this year,” Englert said. “There’s always room at the next level for a guy who comes out of the bullpen and can spin a breaking ball and spot up his fastball for a strike. I think he’s going to be a pretty good draft pick.”
But for now, Crawford isn’t thinking about which MLB team is keeping tabs on him. He’s too busy thanking his lucky stars he’s become a star in the most famed summer baseball league in the country.
“Before every inning I like to look up and say thank you,” said Crawford. “Thank you for letting this happen because I didn’t think I’d still be on the mound at 20 years old. I didn’t think I’d even make it to college ball. I never thought I was that good. So I’m thankful, real thankful, I get to do what I do.”