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Monday, March 31, 2014
Red Sox live fairy tale, nightmare

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

BALTIMORE -- No need for Grady Sizemore to embellish his story. It's already just a couple of ticks shy of Roy Hobbs as it is.

No need for Jackie Bradley Jr. to embellish his story, either. These days, it seems like Stephen King is ghostwriting it.

Sizemore, playing for the first time in 921 days (Sept. 22, 2011), hit his first home run in nearly three years with a broken bat. Somebody check that piece of ash. Make sure no one has burned the word "Wonderboy" into the barrel of his black Louisville Slugger model M110. And check the jersey. If there's a spot of blood on it, we'll know this is a work of fiction.

Grady Sizemore
Grady Sizemore is greeted in the Red Sox dugout after homering in his first game in 921 days.

"He came in on me, definitely jammed me," Sizemore said of the 3-and-1 fastball from Orioles starter Chris Tillman that he launched over the right-field scoreboard in the fourth inning of the Boston Red Sox's 2-1 loss to Baltimore. "It broke my bat."

No, he said, that's not something that had ever happened in his previous incarnation as a three-time All-Star.

"I don't think so," he said. "I can't remember it ever happening before."

Bradley was in Fort Myers on Sunday, having been informed two days earlier that he would not be coming north with the Red Sox. No one had been more in fashion than Bradley last spring, when he tore up camp and won a spot on the Opening Day roster with David Ortiz opening the season on the disabled list.

But what is the fad one spring can be quickly displaced the next, as Sizemore's triumphant return to the game after a two-year absence came at the expense of Bradley, who didn't turn heads the way he had a year ago and was ticketed for some more finishing school in Pawtucket.

But then Shane Victorino grabbed his hamstring rounding first base in the team's last exhibition game Saturday, and an MRI on Sunday confirmed that the team's right fielder was in need of a trip to the 15-day DL.

Bradley, who had vowed to be back in the big leagues before the end of summer, was back before the season opener. He had to endure a couple of canceled flights and some other delays, but he arrived in Baltimore Sunday night. John Farrell did not have Bradley in the starting lineup -- Mike Carp played left field, with Daniel Nava shifting to right -- but he took his place alongside his Red Sox teammates during pregame introductions. So far, so good.

But in the eighth inning, Farrell inserted Bradley into a 2-1 game as a pinch runner for Mike Napoli, hoping that his speed would help manufacture an equalizing run. It didn't happen, but in the ninth, his turn in the order came around, and the game hung in the balance.

Jackie Bradley Jr.
Jackie Bradley Jr. was glad to experience the Red Sox opener, but his day ended on a sour note.

There were two outs, two runners on, Tommy Hunter trying to survive his debut in his new role as Orioles closer. A sellout Camden Yards crowd of 46,685 was on its feet. Farrell, who had pinch hitter extraordinaire Jonny Gomes on his bench, elected to trust the game to the 23-year-old Bradley, primarily because sending a right-handed hitter to bat against Hunter (.141 against righties) was akin to self-immolation.

How often do you get the chance to change hearts and minds so soon after you've been deemed unworthy? It was right there for Bradley, an opportunity to remind people that he belongs here too, Sizemore or no Sizemore. And in the first game of a new season, it was a chance for the Red Sox to demonstrate that there were some leftovers from last season's supply of late-inning magic (which included 11 walk-off wins).

Cue the actors. Shoot the climactic scene, and it's a wrap.

Except the set-up-to-be-a-hero Bradley struck out, hopping into the air in disbelief when plate umpire Dana DeMuth rang him up on a 2-and-2 cutter, ending an at-bat in which Bradley had just missed making a connection on a 99 mph fastball, fouling it straight back.

"I didn't think it was a strike," Bradley said of the last pitch. "I didn't think the first one was a strike either, but that's the way it goes."

Bradley did not look overmatched during the at-bat. He fell behind 0-and-2, laid off a couple of borderline pitches and hung in there against Hunter's high heat.

"He was trying to put me away right then and there," Bradley said. "I just missed it. I failed."

The last pitch, Bradley felt, was high. Farrell later said it was a strike, but credited Bradley with a good at-bat.

"It would have been really nice to have something [to show for it], but I really worked it," Bradley said. "I was seeing him really, really well. The timing was there. I felt very confident about the pitches I took. I had conviction that whole at-bat."

Conviction that went unrewarded. "I hope other chances come," he said, "more often."

As for Sizemore, betrayed so often in recent years by the same athletic body that had allowed him to excel, the day would have held more satisfaction if it had resulted in a win. But there was joy, low-key as it might have been, in the simple act of playing again.

"Today was very exciting," he said. "I got up first thing this morning."

His agent was here, his financial adviser, his godfather, another friend. But no, he said, there would be no big celebration.

"I kind of try to focus on the positive aspects of the day," he said. "I don't get too high, too low, try to stay even."

Two compelling storylines. More chapters to be written, the ending in both cases to be determined. Happily ever after? Not without a price. Ask Grady Sizemore. Or Jackie Bradley Jr.