Sizemore earns redemption in Yankees' doubleheader sweep of Cubs
Wednesday was, perhaps, the biggest day of Scott Sizemore's Major League career.
It's not because he did something spectacular at the plate, or made a handful of highlight-reel defensive plays; Sizemore was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the box score and had just two chances at the hot corner, both of which were "routine," in his first game of the season.
But, simply by starting Game 1 of the Yankees' doubleheader with the Cubs, Sizemore officially finished a journey that was 53 weeks in the making.
"The last two years have been extremely tough with grueling rehab, so to have the chance to be under the lights again, it's a rewarding feeling," Sizemore said prior to his 2014 debut with the Yankees. "I'm pretty proud of my perseverance, because it's not an easy trip to rehab two years in a row."
After missing all of 2012 with a torn left ACL, Sizemore thought he was good to go in 2013, but it was not to be; on April 9, just two appearances into the season, he felt that left knee buckle while going back on a pop-up.
The diagnosis? His left ACL was torn again, his season was over, and now, his career was in doubt.
"The second one happened, and you're so far from being able to walk or run that (it being a career-ender) was probably the first thing that crossed my mind," he said. "But as you go through the rehab process, you slowly start to build confidence and believe that you can do what you used to do."
For Sizemore, it didn't hurt that he had an extra boost of confidence: his wife Brooke, who never let him get down for too long, and his young daughter.
"I have to give a lot of credit to my wife for pushing me and continuing to believe that I could do it. It's definitely a rewarding feeling to be back, and she was just a great support system for me," Sizemore said of his bride's role in his comeback. "In the rehab process you have good days and bad days, and the bad days can be really tough on your mental confidence, but she was always there with positive words and reinforcement. She never really let me."
Sizemore had sort of a Plan B - he would've gone back to school to finish his degree, but hadn't thought much about beyond - but hoped his future led back to the major-league diamond. That dream started in motion when he signed a minor-league deal with the depth-starved Yankees, and after a hot spring turned into a hot start (he was hitting .344 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) and the Yankees infield got banged up, it finally came true.
Credit at least the first half of that to his intense off-season preparation.
"I feel good, and I think my offseason preparation kind of helped; I was hitting off the pitching machine a lot to see the velocity and train my eyes and get my timing," he said. "That, and I'm a little bit more relaxed and not trying to do as much. I still have some work to do, and I'm going to try to get better as the season goes on, but I'm pretty pleased with the start."
He's not yet truly "back to form," as he admitted that his speed, mobility, and agility are at about 95 percent of what they were before the first ACL injury, and he's still adjusting to playing with the knee brace that he'll have to wear for at least this year, if not longer.
But, it's a small price to pay, and after all that's happened, it's a true positive that Sizemore feels no apprehension any time he steps onto the field.
"I'm kind of just trying to play under control as much as I can," he said. "Obviously, there are some plays that are more taxing than others, but I've been happy with the way my body has responded to just seeing the ball and going to get it, so I feel like I'm pretty much where I need to be from a health standpoint. And, with experience comes building confidence that the knee is stable and I can do whatever I need to do to perform on the field."
After getting through Game 1, Sizemore checked off another few items on his MLB comeback list in Game 2 of the doubleheader; he gave himself a batting average in the fourth by beating out a ground ball in the shortstop hole for an infield hit, scored his first run of the year later in the frame, and in his next at-bat, a clean single to left tallied his first RBI since September 27, 2011.
The one he scored and the one he drove in were the Yankees' only two runs in a 2-0 win of the nightcap, and manager Joe Girardi couldn't have been prouder.
"I'm sure it was special for him, because he's been through a lot," the skipper said. "For him it's a special day, and it was a big hit. Not a lot of runs scored today, but he was a big part of it."
After Wednesday, that knee surely does feel really good after all.