CLEVELAND - He had it. Of that, he was sure. And so, too, were most of those assembled inside Jacobs Field. After all, next to Lake Erie there hasn't been a more dependable sight in these parts since 2004 than Grady Sizemore chasing down a fly ball.
But last night in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, Lake Erie dried up, because Sizemore failed to catch a ball he should have had.
His words, folks.
"I should have gotten a better jump. I put myself in a bad spot," said Sizemore, whose valiant dive to catch Kevin Youkilis's gap shot to right-center in the seventh inning didn't end the way so many of his defensive plays end. Instead, the ball glanced off his glove, and when the play was over, Youkilis had an RBI triple and Boston had a 3-1 lead.
Would it have been a highlight-reel play?
It's just that Sizemore conceded it shouldn't have come to that. He said he didn't get a good jump on the ball, which had been preceded by Dustin Pedroia's leadoff double to right-center. That ball was uncatchable. No argument there. But the ball that went to that same spot a few pitches later? "That ball should have been caught," said Sizemore.
The gifted 25-year-old was being hard on himself, but if there was one thing everyone could agree on, it was this: A slight delay in his chase for the ball had something to do with the outcome.
"Grady is a great center fielder," said Cleveland manager Eric Wedge, "and I think just that slight hesitation is what threw him off a little bit."
Though he was critical of his jump, Sizemore did seem to get a good enough pounce on it to track it down, but several steps into his chase he took his eye off the ball.
"I should have been more aggressive. I shouldn't have been so concerned where everyone was," said Sizemore, who took a glance at right fielder Franklin Gutierrez.
"I think there was some eye contact and usually when there's some eye contact, you're in trouble," said Wedge.
That was true in this case, because while Pedroia went back to second to tag up - knowing what everyone in the park knew, that Sizemore always catches these balls - Sizemore lost a step when he glanced at Gutierrez. Next thing he knew, Sizemore was forced to dive, only he didn't make the catch. The fact that the Red Sox broke the game open in the next inning hardly improved his mood. Yes, it was the game. But it's not set and match, not at all.
"We still have the lead. They still have to beat us twice," said Sizemore.
It wasn't the only key play of the night Sizemore had been part of, because in the third he had barreled toward the wall in right-center to chase down a Manny Ramírez rocket. In a fury, which is the only speed Sizemore knows, he leaped high but couldn't get a glove on the ball. Neither did he have time to see where it actually hit, a point of contention that led to a long discussion between the Red Sox and the umpires.
In the end, it was ruled a single, not a home run, but hardly did it matter when the game was over. What seemed to concern Sizemore was not so much his timid performance with the bat in three games at Jacobs Field (he was 2 for 10, though he scored three times), but his tentativeness on that Youkilis shot.
It was a half-hour past midnight and the Cleveland locker room was quiet. Sizemore had made just two errors in all of 2007 and while on this night he hadn't made one, he surely felt as if he had.
"He usually makes that catch," Gutierrez said.
Three lockers away, Sizemore agreed.