FORT MYERS, Fla. -- On a micro level, Grady Sizemore’s day was spectacular enough: 3-for-4 with a double off the Green Monster and an RBI, along with two eye-popping catches in center field.
But midway through spring training games, the macro story may be even more spectacular. Because if the 31-year-old Sizemore can make the Red Sox roster, it will be the story of spring training in all of baseball. And if there are more days like Monday, it will be one of the great comeback stories we’ve seen in some time.
Jackie Bradley Jr. might be in trouble. He was pretty much anointed the starter before camp began because nobody could have possibly known how effective Sizemore would be. He hasn’t played since the 2011 season after two sports hernias and surgeries on his back, elbow and knees (three times, including microfracture procedures on both knees).
After Monday’s statement game, which conveniently came with ESPN in town to broadcast the contest, he is hitting .381.
“Maybe a little bit of a flashback to how good Grady was for a number of years,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
That would be the guy Indians general manager Mark Shapiro once called “one of the greatest players of our generation.” That would be a three-time All-Star by the age of 25. That would be a guy who won two Gold Glove awards.
But Sizemore wasn’t getting carried away.
“Let’s just get through tomorrow before we start talking about the season,” he said. “I just want to keep focusing on spring training and getting better and better.”
He would offer this: “It’s a great feeling just to be back out here and be part of a team, and not be on the outside looking in. It’s been the case for me a long time, sitting on the outside, being hurt and watching. So it’s just good to be around the guys and be in that same scenario.”
Sizemore has had a great spring, but Monday clearly was the grand stage to illustrate his progress.
In the first inning, he chased down Daniel Descalso’s towering shot, colliding violently with the Monster near the 379-foot sign and crashing to the warning track. He held onto the ball, trotted to the dugout and tossed the ball to a front-row fan. No fist pump. No celebration of any kind. Just another moment on the road to rebirth.
“It was a nice play, absolutely, but honestly, I was kind of walking off the field,” Red Sox starter John Lackey said. “I’ve seen him do that before. I kind of thought it was going to happen.”
In the seventh, Sizemore made another diving catch near the warning track to rob Jon Jay of an extra-base hit and save a run.
Asked if he was a little leery of Sizemore’s wall adventure, Farrell said, “I think you’re leery of any player crashing into walls. But he plays instinctually. He plays full out. And to ask a player to be less than that, that’s a difficult request. He knows one way to play. And so far, so good.”
“It’s exciting to see,” Lackey said. “He’s been playing well, looking healthy. It looks like he’s having a good time. Just being back out there on the field, I think he’s excited about that. He’s such a talented player. He has had some great years in the league. If he can get even close to what he used to be, that’d be a huge bonus for us, for sure.”
The Red Sox had no idea what to expect in January when they signed Sizemore to a one-year, $750,000 contract that can be worth as much as $6 million if he stays healthy. It was a shot in the dark, a total gamble, but one that was worth the risk.
“We’re staying very open-minded to this,” Farrell said. “Our memory serves us well. We know the kind of player he was. But we just had to stay open-minded to the evaluation of spring training and see how he performed, and he’s performed very well.”
Asked if there are benchmarks Sizemore still needs to pass, Farrell said, “Every day he walks on the field is a pass. He’s going to play back-to-back days on Wednesday and Thursday coming up. Whether or not we determine that three consecutive [days] is one of those benchmarks or a question to be answered, that remains to be seen. Our whole goal is to continue to build him and keep him on an incline rather than overloading it so early that there’s any kind of a setback. The best thing I can say is he’s responding favorably to everything we’ve put him through.”
It’s pretty clear the Red Sox love their new wild card, but he’s going to take the same kind of ribbing everybody else takes.
After Sizemore came out of the game in the top of the eighth inning, he was standing in front of his cubicle in the clubhouse as the game still played out on ESPN on the overhead monitors.
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski yelled down to him, “They haven’t stopped talking about you for two innings now. I don’t think there’s any other players on the field.”
Sizemore let out sly grin and headed for the shower.
“No, he deserved it, man,” Pierzynski said as Sizemore disappeared down the hallway.