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Sox: A situation right off the bat

BALTIMORE -- If you're Terry Francona, what do you do when your star player allegedly leaves the ballpark before the end of your first official game as manager of the Red Sox? In a 7-2 loss to the Orioles to boot?

The answer might come today. Attempts yesterday to reach Pedro Martinez were unsuccessful. His agent, Fernando Cuza, did not return calls.

Francona is a self-professed players' manager; that's the perception of the players, as well. Several said in spring training they appreciated the way Francona treated them, and that they never would test him or take advantage.

Now the public is waiting to see how Francona handles this, just as it waited to see how Grady Little handled Manny Ramirez's situation last season. A couple of Sox players were also interested in how their new manager would handle the situation, one indicating, "I don't think it's a big deal, but right off the bat Terry has to handle a situation. I know he'll handle it and be fair because that's the way he's been so far."

Francona was content not to pursue the issue with Martinez yesterday. "No, not today," he said. "I wouldn't do that on an offday. That can wait until tomorrow."

Francona indicated he had a policy on players staying around for the whole game, but "in fairness to him [Martinez] and everybody else, that wasn't conveyed correctly on my part and I take responsibility for that."

Does something as basic as that have to be conveyed?

"It's my responsibility to do that, yes," Francona said. "I don't think he was trying to do anything, well, it's not malicious, but that's more my responsibility to make sure it's conveyed."

An associate and friend of Martinez who did not want to be identified said yesterday, "In no way was Pedro disrespecting Terry Francona. Pedro has a lot of respect for Terry. I think Pedro was so disappointed that he didn't pitch better on Opening Day that he was very frustrated at himself. This was in no way something against Terry or anything to do with [Martinez's] contract. He has a lot of pride and he puts a lot of pressure on himself. People just don't understand how much he cares about his performance on the field."

A team source said Francona likely would sit and talk with Martinez before today's game to make sure the situation never occurs again. According to a source at Channel 4, Martinez did some long and short tossing for about 10 minutes yesterday at the park.

Much has been made of Martinez's contract talks with the team, which to this point have yielded no answers to the pitcher's future in Boston. Could it be he does not feel respected by the organization?

"I really don't [think that's the case]," Francona said. "I hope that . . . I don't know what his relationship is with you guys or anything like that. I know I was real pleased to give him the ball on Opening Night. That's a pretty big respect thing right there."

Was Martinez unhappy, sick, cold?

"No, I don't think he felt like talking to you [media] guys is the way I took it, but I don't know," Francona said. "I don't get real caught up in [it]. Like somebody asked me about his mood . . . I'm not sure that that's all that important. I want us to win. He was OK. He was fine."

Francona said he was grateful Martinez settled down after a rough second inning, which enabled him to extend his outing to six innings.

"Ninety-three pitches . . . that was just about right," Francona said. "He had an eight-pitch inning and an 11-pitch inning. He really buckled down and he got real economical."

It appeared as if Martinez had problems getting acclimated to the cold weather. Temperature at game time was 43 degrees, and it fell into the 30s with a biting wind. Martinez was seen blowing into his hands and flexing his hands to get a better feel for the ball. His throwing error in the second inning seemed to indicate his inability to grip the ball the way he would have liked, at least early on.

Eyewitness accounts of when Martinez left the park varied slightly, ranging from during the eighth to the ninth innings, but the team acknowledged Martinez did not wait until the final out was made.

"Nobody said anything about it [Martinez's departure] that I know of," claimed one player. "I think after a game like that, when we played so poorly, that you're just thinking about showering, getting out of there, and looking forward to the day off and then starting all over again. I don't think it's a big issue, but I'm sure it will turn into one."

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