<
>

Grady Sizemore far from glory days

CLEVELAND -- Most of the old teammates are long gone. So is the manager. Grady's Ladies? Disbanded, resigned to their disappointment. Even the name of the ballpark has changed.

It's hard to remember now, but Grady Sizemore used to own this town. Maybe not the way LeBron James did, but close. The way Johnny Manziel will soon.

He had it all: youth, talent and beauty. And Cleveland fell for Sizemore, hard.

Multiskilled and multiracial, driven to win, raised to treat people right, this son of the Pacific Northwest found a home in Cleveland. His boss thought he was the greatest player of his generation. His teammates were inspired by the all-out way he approached the game, his fans by the modest way he bore his success.

A Sports Illustrated cover. Songs written in his honor (check YouTube). Women in the stands wearing pink T-shirts that said "Mrs. Sizemore." Three times an All-Star by the age of 25. This is a team that has only won two World Series in 100 seasons of hardball. The first was 1920, the second 1948.

It was an article of faith in Cleveland that if anyone could take the Indians back to the promised land, it was Grady Sizemore. They had come within a game of going to the Series in 2007, after leading the Red Sox in the ALCS three games to one before succumbing, but no one doubted there would be other opportunities.

Their best player, their Grady, was just entering his prime. Surely, it was just a matter of time.

Until it wasn't.

On Monday night, Grady Sizemore returned to Cleveland with the Boston Red Sox. He came to town with a .232 batting average, two home runs and 14 RBIs. He was the seventh hitter in the Boston lineup. When it was his turn to bat and he was announced to the crowd, a modest gathering of 14,078 in a place now called Progressive Field (it was Jacobs Field when Sizemore played here), there was barely a ripple of recognition.

The expiration date on Sizemore's great promise with the Indians has long since passed. He is still a young man -- only 31 -- but injuries have stolen so much. The outcome of his attempted comeback with the Red Sox, after two full seasons out of the game and only 104 games played over the past four, remains very much uncertain. At times, there are flashes of his former skill, but it's like heat lightning, illuminating the sky for a brief moment and then gone.

Scouts who have seen Sizemore at his best said they planned to give him the first third of the season before they began to gauge what he yet could be. We have come to that point, and the Sox still are unsure of what they have. On Monday afternoon, manager John Farrell mentioned that the hot-hitting Brock Holt would start to take fly balls, as Farrell seeks a way to keep Holt's bat in the lineup. Yes, Farrell said, Holt might see some time in left field. That's where Grady Sizemore plays, at least when Shane Victorino is healthy.

Sizemore is past worrying about such things. The thicket of tomorrows that beckoned so brightly just a few short years ago has given way to the solitary today. Sizemore's broken body long ago forfeited his tomorrows. The striving now is for the present. To be playing today is a reward in itself.

"It still feels like home," Sizemore said before Monday's game. "I started here. It's kind of still a piece of me. It feels weird being back and being on the other side."

Before the game, Sizemore sought out old friends. He saw Mark Shapiro, who is now the Indians president but was the GM when he pulled off the trade that brought Sizemore from Montreal. He visited with clubhouse men, coaches, security guards, folks he passed in the tunnels.

Sizemore had little time for maudlin. "I was saying hi to everybody," he said.

If the crowd didn't greet him with a roar, or even a smattering of applause, he claimed not to notice. "I was pretty locked in to my at-bat," he said. Did a flood of memories rush over him while he stood in the outfield? "Not so much, once the game began."

The Red Sox lost 3-2, ending a seven-game winning streak. Sizemore, like many of his teammates, flailed at the offerings of Indians pitcher Justin Masterson, who at one point threw 25 consecutive strikes. In the fourth inning, Masterson struck out the side on nine pitches; Sizemore was one who went down in the inning. He also popped to third in the second inning and was Masterson's 10th and final strikeout victim in the seventh.

The Sox, held scoreless on three hits by Masterson, drew to within a run on Xander Bogaerts's two-run home run in the eighth off reliever Bryan Shaw.

As it happened, with two out and nobody on in the ninth, Sizemore came to the plate one final time, representing Boston's last hope. There was a time when Sizemore with a bat in his hand in the ninth would have had Cleveland on its feet. This time, the fans were up, all right, but they were cheering for young reliever Cody Allen to send the Indians home a winner.

Did Sizemore imagine, even for a fleeting second, that perhaps the night had been set up for him?

"I don't think that way," he said. "I was just trying to do my job."

Allen wound and threw, and Sizemore popped the ball up. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera caught it. Grady Sizemore turned and headed back to the first-base dugout. The visitors' dugout. Soon enough, there would be another day.