Comeback Kid: Grady proving Sizemore does matter

Grady Sizemore's feelgood Cinderella story felt even better during Boston's
2014 opener Monday when the new starting centerfielder went 2-for-4 with
a homer in his first MLB game since 2011. (Michael Ivins/Getty Images)

Jan-Christian Sorensen Contributing Writer

In Game One of the 2014 MLB season, newly minted Red Sox centerfielder Grady Sizemore’s glass slipper continued to prove a perfect fit.

Sizemore, the feel-good Cinderella story coming out of Spring Training, featured in his first Major League game since 2011 and picked up right where he left off, ripping a Chris Tillman cutter for a hard single to right field in the second and then clearing the right-field wall with a solo homer leading off in the fourth.

It’s been a long road to redemption for Sizemore, who was a rising star in the Cleveland Indians organization when he made his debut in 2004. After a 2005 season that saw him bat .289 with 22 homers, 81 RBI and 22 stolen bases, he signed a six-year deal with the Tribe worth upwards of $23 million. In 2006, he became only the second player in major league history to finish with at least 50 doubles, 10 triples, 25 homers and 20 steals in the same season. In 2007 he was a Sports Illustrated cover boy and touted inside the pages as “without a doubt one of the greatest players of our generation” by Indians GM Mark Shapiro.

However, in 2010, a litany of injuries, surgeries and recoveries began to cut the All-Star and Gold-Glover down in the midst of his prime playing years. Sizemore played in only 33 games that season before requiring microfracture surgery on his left knee. In 2011 he was back on the Disabled List with repeated right knee injuries and a sports hernia that limited him to 77 games. In 2012 he underwent back surgery in Spring Training and missed the entire season and sat out all of 2013 as a free agent.

This January, Boston signed him to a one-year, $750,000, incentive-laden, performance-based deal similar to the one the club inked with Mike Napoli in 2013 when it discovered the first baseman had a degenerative hip condition.

On March 28, John Farrell tapped Sizemore as the starting centerfielder over Jackie Bradley, Jr. after Sizemore hit .310 in Spring Training, going 13 for 42 with a homer, two doubles, two RBI and only four strikeouts.

While the Sox are only one game — and one loss — into the new season, Sizemore looks healthy and happy and Red Sox Nation is hoping he can mitigate the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury be conjuring up some of the same magic he displayed during his best season in 2008, when he hit .268 with 38 stolen bases, 33 homers, 90 RBI, 39 doubles and slugged .502 while posting a fielding percentage of .995 in 157 games.

“Today was very exciting,” said Sizemore, after Monday's game. “ I couldn’t wait to get to the ballpark. I was up first thing in the morning and definitely had a better appreciation for the game and all the little things that go into it. I was thinking my career was over. It was just ‘How am I going to get back? I just couldn’t find the right game plan. You just try to find any solution to get healthy.

“It’s a nice feeling to get that first (homer). Just going through what I’ve gone through, it felt nice to get that moment. I think I actually broke my bat, so I wasn’t really thinking it was going to carry out, but it got up in that wind.”

His new teammates, no stranger to the barrage of injuries that can come fast and furious on the diamond, have been impressed with Sizemore’s return to form.

“I see retro-Grady,” said Red Sox leftfielder Jonny Gomes, in spring training. “I was with (former Red Sox shortstop) Stephen Drew in 2012 with the A’s and then again last year. He was coming off that huge ankle injury. I saw him get better every day. It’s a gradual process. With Grady, put it this way: if you didn’t know Grady got hurt, you would think he’s never gotten hurt. He hasn’t lost a step or (stopped being) aggressive, or (become) tentative. He’s shown zero signs (of that).”

The Red Sox enjoy an off day today as they travel to the White House to celebrate their 2013 World Series title as guests of President Barack Obama, but return to action Wednesday at Camden Yards in Baltimore as John Lackey makes his season debut against Ubaldo Jimenez. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. EST.

Keep the Faith. Drink the Dirty Water. Connect with me on Twitter: @jan_doh