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ORIOLES 7, RED SOX 2

Shaky start

Bad inning does in Martinez as Sox lose season opener

BALTIMORE -- Blame it on the cold? It would be easy enough since the game-time temperature at Camden Yards last night was 43 degrees, matching the coldest opener for the Orioles since 1987. It was 18 degrees chillier than the last time Pedro Martinez pitched when it counted, Game 7 of the American League Championship Series in the Bronx.

Yet even the ravages of a wintry grip had not stopped Martinez in the past. Just a year ago, the Sox ace blanked the Devil Rays on two hits over seven innings to triumph in a 21-degree wind chill at Fenway Park. And he had prevailed in similarly icy conditions in previous years.

But as the Sox opened their 104th season amid some of the highest hopes in franchise history, something bedeviled Martinez in a tumultuous second inning that contributed to a 7-2 loss before 47,683 heavily-clad witnesses at Oriole Park. The lapse helped to extend Boston's losing streak in season openers to four.

"He had a tough second inning," manager Terry Francona said. "Other than that, he was very, very good."

Martinez, who left the ballpark while his teammates tried in vain to battle back, ultimately got precious little help as the Sox put 19 runners on base and scored only on Manny Ramirez's third-inning single and Johnny Damon's fielder's choice with the bases loaded in the eighth. The Sox ended one inning with a strikeout-caught stealing, were unable to score from first on a two-out double to the right-field corner, stranded runners at second and third with a two-out bunt back to the mound, and bounced into a pair of double plays.

"I think more times than not we're going to score a lot of runs in that type of environment," said Gabe Kapler, who had three hits. "It's kind of just a fluke the way it worked out."

The Sox pen also provided the ace little help as Mike Timlin surrendered three runs while retiring only two batters in the seventh inning, though Timlin was betrayed in part by an apparently faulty defensive play. With one run already in and runners at the corners after Timlin uncharacteristically walked two batters and allowed an RBI grounder by Rafael Palmeiro, Lopez sent a fly ball to right center that dropped untouched. Either center fielder Damon or right fielder Kapler appeared within range, but neither was able to capitalize, allowing a two-run double that left the Sox in a 6-1 bind.

An error by shortstop Cesar Crespo, a late-game sub appearing in his first career opener, cleared the way for the final Baltimore run.

"Nothing went right for us," Damon said of the game in general. "We just weren't good, and I wasn't good." Damon was 0 for 5 from the leadoff spot.

Martinez, who lasted six innings, blanked the O's in every inning but the second, allowing seven hits, a walk, and a hit batsman in his 93-pitch outing. But he absorbed his first loss in an opener with the Sox because of his sloppy second inning.

Since Martinez was not available after the game and left no statement with the team, no one knew directly whether the chilly conditions hampered him from getting a feel for his pitches early in the game.

"I know it was probably difficult," Francona said. "I saw him blowing a lot on his hand, but everybody had to do that."

Before the inning ended, Martinez surrendered a solo homer to the righthanded-hitting Javy Lopez after holding righthanders homerless last year throughout the regular season. He drilled his buddy, David Segui, with a pitch in the back. And he made a wild throwing error that cleared the way for an unearned run. All of it unfolded as radar-gun watchers noted that Martinez rarely topped 90 miles an hour with his fastball and hit his highest velocity of 91 only five times in his 34-pitch odyssey.

Martinez's defense had picked him up in the first inning when he ran into a bit of a jam. With one out, Melvin Mora dribbled a grounder toward third and narrowly beat it out by eluding first baseman Kevin Millar's attempt to swipe him after snaring a high throw from Bill Mueller. An out later, Palmeiro poked a line drive to left over the Sox infield, which was shifted to the right against Palmeiro. Mora tried to capitalize on the shift by dashing to third, but shortstop Pokey Reese, who had been positioned on the right side of second base, raced to the bag in time to nail Mora on Manny Ramirez's throw from left, ending the inning. Ramirez was so happy, he did a little jump step coming off the field.

Ramirez later helped the Sox chip away at Baltimore's lead in the third inning. After Reese drew a one-out walk and Mueller moved Reese to second by flaring a single to left, Ramirez smacked an 89-m.p.h. slider from Sidney Ponson up the middle to knock in Reese, cutting it to 3-1.

The Sox may have had a chance to recoup another run in the fourth when Kapler singled to right and Mark Bellhorn doubled into the right-field corner. But as Jay Gibbons appeared to concede Kapler scoring, he was held up at third, leaving runners at second and third with two outs for Reese.

Francona adamantly defended the decision to hold Kapler at third, insisting it would have been unduly risky to do otherwise.

"He had no chance to score," the manager said. "If you send him there, he's out cold."

In any case, the rally proved fruitless as Reese bunted back to the mound for the final out.

"We've talked to Pokey all spring about trying to use the short game," Francona said. "I think he was trying to do the right thing. But in that situation, we'd rather him swing away."

The shame of it for the Sox was that Martinez recovered well from his stormy second and a number of hitters had a productive opening night despite the difficult conditions. Defending batting champ Mueller joined Kapler in collecting three hits, while Ramirez and Bellhorn each had two.

But in the end, the Sox were unable to overcome Martinez's shaky second, the defensive lapses, and their futility at the plate.

"There are going to be better days," Damon said.

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