MANCHESTER -- Fenway North featured Carl Crawford in left field, Jacoby Ellsbury in center field and enough red, white and blue to make Uncle Sam blush.
More than 8,000 fans came out for an Independence Day bash between the Fisher Cats and Sea Dogs, who combined for the most memorable night of the 2012 season — at least so far — at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
Crawford went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles and RBI in an extra-inning affair. Ellsbury went 1-for-5 with a strikeout, and Red Sox prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. collected four hits against Fisher Cats pitchers.
Ellsbury and Crawford, who played together Friday in the Gulf Coast League, continued a minor-league barnstorming tour while on rehab assignment for the Red Sox. It won't be long before they return to the majors — Ellsbury wants back soon — and provide some much-needed outfield stability.
“I was happy with the way it went,” said Ellsbury, who appeared to be playing at nearly 100 percent. “I'm going to call (the Red Sox) and tell them it went well … I'm itching to get back up as soon as possible.”
A whopping seven Boston outfielders have spent significant time on the disabled list, including Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross. Despite the season of unexpected injury, the Red Sox, astonishingly, entered Wednesday only 1½ games behind in the American League wild card standings. Tonight or Friday, we'll likely have a look at Sweeney (big toe injury), who is expected to join Portland for a similar tune-up.
In the consecutive 3-2 losses at Oakland this week, Boston's punchless outfield of Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish and Ross combined to go 2-for-22, mustering only two singles. Help is on the way.
Ellsbury appears ready to unleash his talents on the American League. The 28-year-old, in the prime of his career, returned to Manchester for the first time since 2007, the year in which he was considered for World Series MVP honors. As a rising star with the Sea Dogs in April '07, Ellsbury had a double and two triples in his first game at Manchester.
Crawford singled off Chad Jenkins in the second inning, and Ellsbury ripped a first-pitch single in the fourth inning. Ellsbury put on a show during batting practice, sending a half-dozen balls over the right-field wall.
“That right there,” said an American League scout, “is what an All-Star big leaguer looks like during batting practice.”
The compact and explosive swing nearly put to shame Crawford, who rolled over pitches and looked nothing like a $142 million player. Then again, when Crawford signed the seven-year guaranteed deal, he had had yet to undergo wrist surgery or be sidelined with a bad elbow.
“I'm starting to feel better with every day that passes. It's a day-to-day thing,” said Crawford, who expects to stay with Portland. “I can't wait to get back up there but at the same time, I want to make sure I'm ready.”
With the return of Crawford and Ellsbury, Boston can dangle its extra outfielders in trade talks. Heck, why not attempt to trade Ellsbury and (pick anyone Red Sox player) in a deal with Seattle for Felix Hernandez?
On that note, the best outfielder on the Sea Dogs roster this week is Bradley, who is being groomed as Ellsbury's replacement. Bradley batted in the No. 3 hole Wednesday night, serving as DH and allowing Ellsbury to patrol center field. Bradley had hits in his first three at-bats as the Sea Dogs took a 5-4 lead. Fisher Cats slugger Mark Sobolewski homered in the fifth, knotting the game at five-apiece.
Ellsbury and Crawford are expected to play again tonight against the Fisher Cats. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Ellsbury playing against the Yankees on Friday.
“(My shoulder) has to be battle-tested. Tonight was a big step forward. We just need to make sure it's right,” he said.
The addition of Sweeney would give the Sea Dogs an unprecedented All-Red Sox outfield.
There were plenty of fireworks in the series opener along the Merrimack River. In addition to a postgame pyrotechnics show, there were multiple nearby lightning strikes that could be seen from the seats. Portland's Matt Spring came unglued in the fifth inning and was ejected by home plate umpire Shaun Lampe after arguing balls and strikes.
GAME DAY: Fisher Cats righty Fernando Hernandez (1-6, 5.23 ERA) takes the mound tonight, opposed by Portland lefty Chris Hernandez (4-6, 2.91 ERA). Game time is 7:05.
Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.