BALTIMORE Major League Baseball's feel-good story of the spring extended into the regular season on Monday as Boston Red Sox center fielder Grady Sizemore had two hits, including his first home run since 2011.
The Red Sox lost to the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 in the season opener for both teams but Sizemore's day made Boston's gamble to sign the three-time All-Star look pretty shrewd.
"It felt good," said Sizemore, a once-dynamic power hitter who sat out the last two seasons with knee and back injuries. "I was excited to get the season started. Opening Day is always fun."
Sizemore singled in his first at-bat, and then his next time up, he lofted a fly ball that softly banged off the top of the wall in right-field before bouncing back onto the field.
It was a home run but Sizemore was taking no chances, running at full speed past second base before the umpire signaled that it was indeed out of the park.
"I broke my bat, so I really wasn't thinking it was going to carry out," the 31-year-old Sizemore told reporters. "But it got caught up in that wind.
"I didn't really know (it was a home run). I just saw the ball drop and I thought maybe it hit off the wall. I saw the umpire give me the (signal) I was shocked more than anything."
Many believed Sizemore was destined for Cooperstown when he arrived in the majors in 2004 but injuries slowed the career of the two-time Gold Glove winner. He played only 106 games in 2009 and 104 the next two seasons combined.
After sitting out the last two years, the Red Sox decided to give Sizemore a chance and he made the club after hitting .310 in 13 spring training games.
"It was great," Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia said of Sizemore's day at the plate. "The home run was awesome. He looks comfortable. He looks great out there. I'm pretty proud of him, what he's been through to get back to this point.
"Just seeing his at-bats in spring training, he looked comfortable the whole time, like he didn't miss any time. He's going to be a force for us."
Sizemore finished with two hits in four at-bats and looked at ease in the field, though he was not tested. The homer was his first since July 15, 2011, also at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
He said his single in the second inning was perhaps more satisfying than the home run.
"It just felt good to get the first one out of the way," Sizemore said of his sharp single to right. "When you've been gone for so long, you step in there you just want a good at-bat. Not necessarily get a hit but just hit the ball hard."
Sizemore said after the long rehabilitation he's just happy to be playing.
"Every day I've been here since spring training has been gratifying." he said. "I'm happy to be back and happy to be healthy. I'm looking forward to just getting the opportunity to play and helping contribute.
"Today was very exciting. I couldn't wait to get to the ballpark. I was up first thing in the morning. I have a better appreciation for the game and all the little things that go into it."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)