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April 11, 1998: A dominating debut at Fenway

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FENWAY PARK — In boxing parlance, the Red Sox have in Mo Vaughn and Pedro Martinez, a thunderous left hook and a tremendous right cross.

Vaughn took care of business in Friday’s home opener with a game-winning grand slam, and yesterday it was Martinez slamming the door on the Seattle Mariners, 5-0, with a two-hit, 12-strikeout gem.

Long before it was over, they were chanting, “Pedro. . ..Pedro. . ..Pedro’’ and spotted through the stands could be seen the Dominican Republic flag.

Vaughn referred to the slim righthander as “A tremendous force with an attitude that spreads down the whole pitching staff.’’

Previously, Martinez had beaten the Oakland A’s and got a no decision against the Anaheim Angels. This time he was in against the big time. When you’re talking Seattle Mariners, you’re talking a latter-day Murderer’s Row batting order.

But he set them down as if they were the latter-day “Hitless Wonders’’ allowing only two singles and just three other balls out of the infiefld.

When he faced Ken Griffey, Jr., perhaps the best hitter in baseball, the atmosphere was electric.

Griffey was hitless in four trips, including a strikeout, but the biggest confrontation came in the last at bat in the ninth with two outs.

Griffey took a couple of strikes and the second one had him shaking his head in frustration. Martinez got him on a pop to first to end it.

Edgar Martinez, the Mariner cleanup hitter who also went hitless, said of him, “He’s not big but he’s imposing. He never changes his expression. You can see the confidence in his eyes that he can throw the ball wherever he wants every time.’’

Red Sox third baseman John Valentin compared Martinez to the Atlanta Braves’ Greg Maddux, the perennial Cy Young Award winner. “He’s like Maddux. He relies on movement with his pitches but he’s faster than Maddux.’’ That’s a compliment you can end a column on.

As for Martinez, who is a delight as a pitcher, he is totally unflappable as a person. He stood for more than a half an hour answering questions, rare for a player.

He said of himself, “I’m only human. I just want to stay healthy,’’ and he about facing Griffey, “Anytime you face hitters like Griffey, Edgar and David Segui you have to be very careful. I just go out and pitch the best I can.’’ He noted that the first time he heard the chants he heard yesterday was in Yankee Stadium last season when he was still with the Montreal Expos. “They were chanting, `Pedro Cy Young. . ..Pedro Cy Young. . ..Pedro Cy Young.’ It’s a great feeling to have the fans behind you. I’m proud.’’

And then he added matter-of-factly, “I expect to do this. I work hard. I’ll work even harder. I expect to do something better. I had everything going for me today. I threw my change-up any time I wanted.’’

Martinez is 2-0 with an earned run that you need a magnifying glass to examine — a microscopic 0.39.

Again, in this age that too often is frequented by the temperamental and ill-mannered athlete, Martinez is a breath of fresh air. He has no apparent flaws.

After Martinez’ victory yesterday, Vaughn greeted him with a big bear hug. It may have been payback. The day before following Vaughn’s hitting heroics, General Manager Dan Duquette was driving out of the player parking lot. He was spotted by a large group of fans who chanted, “Sign Mo. . ..Sign Mo. . ..Sign Mo.’’

Walking through the lot at the time was Martinez and he was pumping his fist in unison with the chanting fans.

Editor’s note: This story was printed on April 12, 1998, Pedro Martinez’s first ever start at Fenway Park as a member of the Boston Red Sox.

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