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April 1, 1998: Martinez stars in debut

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Under an Opening Night banner, it all unfolded exactly as the Red Sox had planned it over the off-season.

Pedro Martinez, their $75 million man, proved every bit as spectacular as advertised, blanking the Oakland A’s for seven innings, striking out 11, including two with the potential tying runs in scoring position.

Martinez then turned over the game to the Red Sox two-headed bullpen monster: Dennis Eckersley and Tom Gordonn combined for the final six outs, preserving a 2-0 Red Sox victory that was short on offensive highlights but chock-full of artful pitching. In his American League debut, Martinez retired the first 11 hitters he faced and had yielded just one hit and three baserunners through the first six innings.

The A’s reached him for two hits to start the seventh as Matt Stairs and Jason Giambi singled and advanced to third on a sacrifice by Scott Spiezio.

But Martinez finished with a flourish, getting rookie catcher A.J. Hinch on strikes for the second time before dropping a called third strike past Jason McDonald for the final out. That pitch was his 116th — and final — one of the evening.

“Those good pitchers — that’s what happens,’’ said Jimy Williams. “They get in those jams and seem to have the ability to reach back, accept the challenge and go after it.’’

Martinez said: “On those tough situations, you have to be tough if you want to succeed out there. I couldn’t even let them make good contact because a fly ball scores a run and puts the tying run on third.’’

Martinez, whose fastball topped out at 96 miles per hour got his two biggest outs of the night on off-speed pitches, using a curveball to get Hinch and a changeup to freeze McDonald. “That shows how much confidence he has,’’ said catcher Scott Hatteberg. “The guy could easily rely on his fastball but it’s like the best of both worlds — he’s an overpowering guy who can also rely on finesse.’’

Williams summoned Dennis Eckersley for the eighth. Eckersley gave up a one-out single to former teammate Rickey Henderson, who then stole second, then took third on an infield groundout by Dave Magadan.

With Henderson at third and left-handed hitting rookie Ben Grieve due, Williams called for Gordon, who stranded Henderson when he got Grieve to roll out to Donnie Sadler at second.

Gordon then set down the A’s in order in the ninth to notch the save.

Martinez allowed three hits in his seven innings and walked just two to go along with his 11 strikeouts.

The Sox collected seven hits off three Oakland pitchers, and all but one was a single.

The Sox used an error, a wild pitch and a sacrifice to push across a run in the fifth to take a 1-0 lead, which they carried into the seventh. They then added a run in the seventh when Darren Bragg doubled, took third on a fielder’s choice and scored on a sacrifice fly by John Valentin.

Martinez, who struck out 305 last season, racked up eight through the first six innings. He got the first of his American League career when he slipped a called third strike past Dave Magadan for the second out of the first inning.

He fanned Stairs and Giambi for the first two outs of the second inning before Spiezio connected for the first hard-hit ball of the evening against him. Spezio lined a bullet to right, but Bragg didn’t have far to range to stab the ball for the final out of the inning.

Martinez handled the bottom third of the Oakland order with ease, recording another strikeout when he got rookie catcher Hinch to flail wildly on a third strike for the second out. Any thought that Martinez might make history in his first Boston start was quelled in the fourth when Grieve, a consensus choice to win the American League Rookie of the Year award, fought off a pitch and singled to left with two out.

Martinez then walked Stairs to give the A’s two on with two out, but Giambi went down on strikes for the second time.

Mixing his exploding fastball nicely with a deadly changeup, Martinez carved through the A’s in the fifth, striking out the side. Through the fifth, Martinez had thrown 72 pitches, 48 of them strikes.

As dominant as Martinez was, the Red Sox fared little better against Oakland starter Tom Candiotti. The veteran knuckleballer allowed just one baserunner in the first three innings and checked the Sox on four hits through the first six innings.

Mo Vaughn drilled a hard single to right-center with two outs in the first, but Candiotti got Reggie Jefferson on a flyout to center to end the inning.

Candiotti then turned back the Sox in order in the second and third innings, and the Sox got the ball out of the infield only once in those two innings.

In the fourth, Vaughn reached with another single, then took second when Jefferson followed with a single of his own.

A flyout to right by Troy O’Leary was deep enough to send Vaughn to third, and when Hinch had difficulty gloving a knuckler with Scott Hatteberg at the plate, Jefferson trotted down to second to give the Sox two baserunners in scoring position.

But Candiotti bore down and got Hatteberg to hit a chopper to first. Candiotti, returning to the American League for the first time since the 1991 season, was let down by his defense in the fifth and it cost him a run.

Darren Lewis led off the inning with a grounder to Spiezio, whose throw to first sailed wide of Giambi, enabling Lewis to reach second. An errant knuckler, which looked to be a passed ball but was scored a wild pitch, allowed Lewis to take third and Bragg’s flyout to center produced the first run of the season.

The way Martinez was going, it looked like plenty. With an insurance run, it was.