BALTIMORE -- Having lost the center field battle to Grady Sizemore on Friday, Jackie Bradley Jr. was resigned to the fact he would be starting the season in the minor leagues with the Pawtucket Red Sox.
But as often happens in baseball, fate intervened. A hamstring injury to Shane Victorino, suffered in the Red Sox' final spring training game in Florida, changed plans quickly. So instead of getting ready to open in Pawtucket, Bradley was summoned to Baltimore Monday morning, where he was activated for the season opener . . . where he ended up playing a key role.
Bradley entered the game as a pinch-runner for Mike Napoli in the top of the eighth inning. He was stranded at second base, and then took over in right field as Mike Carp moved from right to first base as Napoli's replacement. And, of course, he wound up with the key at-bat of the game.
With the Red Sox trailing, 2-1, Will Middlebrooks was hit by a pitch leading off the ninth and, one out later, was singled to second by Dustin Pedroia. David Ortiz flied out deep to left-center field -- one of several drives to the warning track by Sox hitters on this day -- and that brought up Bradley, hitting in Napoli's cleanup spot. Jonny Gomes was available in the dugout, but manager John Farrell stuck with Bradley.
Nervous? Not Jackie Bradley Jr.
"I felt great I felt very comfortable at the plate,"
He took two quick strikes, worked the count to 2-and-2, and then took a borderline pitch at the upper edge of the strike zone that Dana DeMuth called strike three for the final out of the game.
"I didn't think it was a strike," he said. "I didn't think the first one was a strike, either. But that's the way it goes."
Bradley wasn't the only Red Sox hitter to fail with runners in scoring position; they were 0-for-10 in that situation. And he wasn't the only hitter to strand a runner; they left 12 on base.
Still, it was a downer of an ending to what had been a surprising, and delightful, day.
"It wasn't even a couple of days [during which things changed],'' Bradley said before th egame. "It was definitely unexpected. I guess that's why you have to prepare for anything.''
Bradley had a rough spring at the plate in losing out to Sizemore, hitting just .158 (9-for-57). But he said Monday he felt his swing now was "pretty good. BP was great.''
This marks the second straight year that Bradley has been on the Red Sox' Opening Day roster. He made his major league debut in last season's opener, playing left field in Yankee Stadium.
"No different,'' said Bradley when asked to compare the experiences. "Everything's still focused on Opening Day ceremonies and all the hoopla. But it's great to be here."
Bradley was packing his belongings and equipment Sunday night when he was told of the detour.
"Everybody was packing, regardless of where you were going,'' said Bradley. "So it's all a matter of grabbing the right things and going on the right [plane].''
But the youngster took it all in stride.
"I'm ready whenever I'm called upon," he said.
That call came earlier than he probably expected. Unfortunately for him, there was no storybook ending.