BALTIMORE — It had been 922 days since his last major league game, 990 days since his last home run, and 1,456 days since the last time he took the field for Opening Day, but the only numbers Grady Sizemore could think about were the ones on his clock.
It was 5:45 in the morning and he was wired.
He had been away from the game for more than two years — sidelined by seven surgeries — but it wasn’t nerves that had him up so early Monday.
He knew what that felt like. Nerves, he said, were what he felt when he made his major league debut 10 years ago.
“Your first game, your debut, you’re a little nervous, you’re just trying to maybe just get your feet wet,” Sizemore said.
This was more like the buzz you get from reuniting with an old flame after seeing so much time go by.
And Sizemore went 2 for 4 with a home run in the Red Sox’ 2-1 loss to the Orioles.
“I couldn’t wait to get up,” Sizemore said. “I was up first thing in the morning. I definitely had an appreciation for the game and all the little things that go into it.”
There were points at which he wondered if it would happen.
Elbow surgery, sports hernia surgeries, and microfracture knee surgeries have a way of clouding your head with doubts.
“When you go through that many injuries, it’s hard not to think about it,” Sizemore said. “For me, I wasn’t thinking. ‘My career’s over.’ I was thinking, ‘How am I going to get back?’ I just couldn’t find the right game plan.”
He didn’t come to the Camden Yards with any preconceived notions.
“I wasn’t saying, ‘I need to get a hit to have a good day,’ ” Sizemore said. “You want to come in here looking to get a win. That’s really the only goal moving forward.”
But when he stepped into the batter’s box for the first time in two years in the second inning, it all felt normal again.
He waited patiently while Orioles starter Chris Tillman nibbled around the strike zone. When the count ran to 3-and-0, Sizemore let fastball up and away pass by. The next pitch was in almost the exact same spot and he sent it sizzling into right field for a single, his first hit since September 2011.
“You’ve been gone for so long,” said Sizemore. “You step in there, your first one, just have a good at-bat. Not necessarily get a hit, but just hit the ball hard, and it felt good.”
Two innings later, he led off the inning, something he was more than familiar with having 705 games as a leadoff hitter on his résumé from his days with the Indians.
The wind, whipping around Camden Yards at 19 miles per hour, already had snuffed out loud fly balls from Xander Bogaerts and A.J. Pierzynski earlier in the afternoon.
But somehow, Sizemore got on its good side. He shot a 3-and-1 cutter from Tillman into the air in right field, and from the time it left his bat, Sizemore had plenty of reason to believe it wouldn’t do any damage.
For starters, the pitch left his bat broken.
“I wasn’t really thinking it was going to carry out,” Sizemore said. “It got up in that wind.”
He was in a rush to get around the basepaths until he saw the umpire spinning his finger around.
“I didn’t really know,” Sizemore said. “I just saw the ball drop and I thought maybe it hit off the wall. I saw the umpire. I was shocked more than anything.”
In the dugout, his new teammates were as shocked as they were happy to see some instant gratification for a player who went through prolonged agony.
“How many guys hit a broken-bat first homer?” said third baseman Will Middlebrooks. “That’s impressive.”
It was Sizemore’s third Opening Day home run. It was his first homer since July 15, 2011, which also came at Camden Yards. But what impressed teammates more was Sizemore’s approach at the plate.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia said he could see it coming all spring.
“Just seeing his at-bats in spring training, he looked comfortable the whole time, like he didn’t miss any time,” Pedroia said.
In his four at-bats Monday, Sizemore saw 21 pitches. He didn’t have a plate appearance shorter than five pitches. He put the ball in play three times. He saw 13 pitches out of the zone and only reached for one of them, grounding to short in the sixth. Of the eight pitches he saw in the zone, he swung four times and got wood on every one of them.
“He looks great out there,” Pedroia said. “We’re pretty proud of him, what he’s been through to get back to this point and he’s going to be a huge force for us.”