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This early departure troubling

BALTIMORE -- The new Red Sox season, one of great expectations, got off to a rough start at Camden Yards last night. Pedro Martinez was back on the mound, but the problems that plagued him in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series in the Bronx last season and continued throughout spring training followed him into the second inning of a 7-2 loss to the Orioles.

Martinez didn't stick around to talk about things after the game. In fact, team guy that he is, Pedro left the ballpark before the game was over. He must not have been feeling properly respected, or something like that.

"[Manager] Terry [Francona] is going to find out what happened and address it with Pedro," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "He'll talk to Pedro, I'm sure." When asked if Martinez's early departure was a violation of team policy, Epstein said, "We keep that in house."

Playing in 43-degree weather for the benefit of national television, Martinez and the Sox trailed, 3-0, before the Orioles made an out in the second. Seven of the first nine Baltimore batters reached base -- five hits, including a Javy Lopez homer, plus a hit batsman and Pedro's own throwing error.

Martinez settled down after the brutal second. He wound up giving up only two earned runs in six innings, striking out five. But he also gave up seven hits and a walk and topped 90 miles per hour infrequently. Sox fans might as well brace themselves for at least five full days of "What's wrong with Pedro?" stories.

It's been an unsettling spring for the little guy. Like many of his other high-profile teammates, he is unsigned after this year. He arrived in Florida weary from carrying that satellite-dish-sized chip on his right shoulder, and got mad when reporters questioned his velocity. In five spring outings, Martinez compiled a 6.75 ERA and gave up 20 hits and six walks in 16 innings. He was rocked for six runs in the first inning of his final Grapefruit League start. Veterans are certainly allowed to fail in spring training. They sometimes use the games to work on new things. Or just to get their work in. When Pedro pitched against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., last week, the numbers made it look like he might be tanking. Just setting us up for that Opening Night shutout against the Orioles.

At best, his performance in the opener was uneven. It looked like he'd be routed in the second, but he settled down nicely through the middle innings. Fifty-eight of his 93 pitches were strikes.

He gave up a couple of weak hits in the first, but got out of it because of a heads-up play involving Manny Ramirez and Pokey Reese. With Melvin Mora on first and two out, the Sox shifted Reese to the right side for Rafael Palmeiro. When Palmeiro dumped a single into shallow left, Mora tried to make third, but Reese beat him to the bag, as did Manny's throw.

The second was far more eventful. New Oriole Lopez hit the first pitch of the inning 370 feet into the seats in left. Interesting. In 2003, Martinez did not yield a regular-season homer to a righthanded batter. Not one. In 273 at-bats.

Jay Gibbons followed the homer with a single to right, then stole second. Naturally, somebody had to pay for Lopez's homer. With Karim Garcia unavailable, Martinez plucked his alleged pal, David Segui. The 0-and-1 pitch was right on target, into the back of Segui.

Larry Bigbie was next and hit a roller back to Martinez. Pedro elected to go to first, but his throw sailed toward the runner and went past Kevin Millar. That made it 2-0 and put runners on second and third. Then No. 9 batter Luis Matos cracked a solid single to left to make it 3-0.

The Oriole fans were really giving it to Martinez when pitching coach Dave Wallace made a visit. It seemed strange to see Friday's scheduled starter for the home opener, Bronson Arroyo, warming up in the second inning of a Pedro Martinez start, but that's what happened. But the blowout was averted. Pedro fanned the next two batters, then got Miguel Tejada on a fly ball to the warning track. Martinez threw 47 pitches in the first two innings, 34 in the second. He wasn't going nine.

Martinez left after striking out Bigbie to end the sixth. Then Mike Timlin came on and the game got out of hand. If he was watching on ESPN2, Grady Little had to be smiling.

Catcher Jason Varitek, again left to talk for Pedro, said, "He got a feel for the game as the game went on. He threw the ball well and kept us in the game. That's all you can ask."

It should be noted that Pedro was singing the same tired "no respect" song to Hall of Famer Jim Palmer in the Sox clubhouse before the game. Martinez may still be wearing a Sox uniform, but if we can believe what he says to confidants, his heart is already testing the waters of free agency. If he stays healthy, Martinez's 2004 season figures to be a 34-start audition for potential bidders.

He's out of here. Just as he was out of here last night while his teammates were still trying to win the ballgame.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is Gordon Edes contributed to this report.

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