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Gabbard takes a major stride

Rookie has solid outing in debut

SEATTLE -- He made the calls Thursday, before anything was official, other than his ticket on a flight to Seattle. All he knew was that he was leaving behind the Pawtucket Red Sox for the Boston Red Sox, and there was a chance he could start.

So the calls went to Florida, to his mother, brother, and sister, summoning them to the opposite end of the country for a possibility that turned into reality yesterday, when 24-year-old Kason Gabbard became the third pitcher -- after Jon Lester and David Pauley -- to make his major league debut with the Red Sox this season.

``You have a lot of thoughts in the back of your head," Gabbard said of the whirlwind last two days. ``They really didn't tell me much [before Friday]. I don't think it's hit me yet. It still hasn't hit me, even though the game's over. I don't know. It's just different being up here. A lot of these guys are veteran guys and it's kind of weird to be the rookie up here."

At least he's not the only one.

Gabbard, a dead ringer for actor Seann Scott's Steve Stifler character of ``American Pie" fame, stood with his arms crossed, his eyes flicking over the clubhouse and its collection of veterans, some of whom were well into their major league careers when he was in grade school. He belonged, at least on this day, an afternoon in which he earned his first career decision, a 5-2 loss that could have been -- with a little help from his defense -- a win.

``He held his face very well," said Lester, the fellow rookie who knows a little something about Gabbard -- the pair played together in the minor leagues -- and a little something about making a major league debut. ``You couldn't tell that he was nervous or out of synch. He held his composure very well, threw the ball excellent, kept us in the ballgame."

Though he allowed a base runner in every inning except the fourth, Gabbard -- 5 1/3 innings, 8 hits, 3 runs (2 earned), 2 walks, 3 strikeouts -- kept the game within reach of the powerful Red Sox bats. But, with phenom Felix Hernandez on the mound for the Mariners, the Sox were held in check.

After giving up two runs in the second inning, on a walk to Carl Everett, a two-out single by Yuniesky Betancourt, a walk to Adam Jones, and a single by Ichiro Suzuki, Gabbard controlled the Mariners into the sixth inning. And, it seemed, it could have been longer.

Having induced Richie Sexson to pop to David Ortiz at first, Gabbard got Eduardo Perez to ground softly to third. With Mike Lowell bare-handing the ball, it appeared he would get Perez by about two steps at first base. But Ortiz lifted his foot off the bag, according to first base umpire Larry Poncino, a play that appeared inconclusive on replay, though Perez immediately pointed at Ortiz's foot after he crossed the base. Everett followed with a single that knocked Gabbard out of the game.

Reliever Julian Tavarez entered the game, only to give up a ground ball to Perez that looked as if it might get Gabbard and the Red Sox out of trouble. But shortstop Alex Gonzalez, trying to make the play at third (which manager Terry Francona called the right move), hit Perez in the back as he flipped the ball toward Lowell, allowing Perez to score the winning run, giving the loss to Gabbard.

It was a fate that might have been predicted with a look at the name on the scorecard, the name of a kid pitcher whom Francona couldn't even identify in spring training. But, it seemed, it wasn't entirely deserved.

``I'm telling you, I think this kid can pitch a little bit," Francona said. ``He sunk his fastball, he threw his breaking ball and changeup over the plate. He held runners. I know these guys [Mariners] haven't seen him, and there's something to that, but I thought he pitched a major league game. I was really impressed."

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