New faces, steroids top issues as baseball begins 2005 season

Posted: Monday, April 04, 2005

Pedro Martinez has a new league to torment, Washington fields a new team and baseball has a new statistic to track — violators of a toughened steroids policy.

Just hours before Randy Johnson took the mound for the first time in pinstripes and the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox resumed their outsized rivalry with the opening game of the 2005 season Sunday night, Alex Sanchez was the most prominent name in baseball.

Sanchez became the first player publicly identified for testing positive under baseball's stricter drug policy. His 10-day suspension begins Monday when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays play the Kansas City Royals in one of 10 openers around the major leagues.

''I'm going to fight it, because I've never taken steroids or anything like that,'' said Sanchez, who was set to start in center field for the Devil Rays.

Martinez will throw his first pitch for the rebuilt Mets in Cincinnati — and he'll have New York's other big free-agent acquisition, Carlos Beltran, patrolling center field.

''Pedro's the type of guy, he elevates everybody. He's one of the classic stopper guys,'' Mets catcher Mike Piazza said.

''More often than not, he's going to give you a way better than average chance to win that game,'' Piazza added. ''That's just the way he battles. That's what we're looking forward to, and we want to get off to a good start.''

Ken Griffey Jr., healthy after another injury interrupted season, is one player not looking forward to seeing Martinez back in the National League.

''You know the numbers,'' said Griffey, who is 0-for-12 against Martinez.

Washington will again be focused on baseball — no, not members of Congress asking questions about steroids — but on the Nationals, when the team that moved from Montreal after three years in limbo faces the Phillies in Philadelphia.

''It's a big comfort for the guys. It's a big relief, mentally more than anything else: Finally, they have some place to call home. They'll have fans behind them. They can settle in,'' Nationals manager Frank Robinson said.

Sammy Sosa has a new home, too.

He joins fellow 500-homer club member, Rafael Palmeiro, on the Baltimore Orioles, who face the Oakland Athletics. Palmeiro begins the season 78 hits shy of joining Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray in the exclusive 3,000-hit, 500-homer club.

After a bitter end to his stay with the Chicago Cubs, Sosa is ready to begin anew.

''I have to go out there and fight to win the fans,'' Sosa said, 26 homers short of 600.

The Cubs won't only be missing Sosa from their opening day lineup, Carlos Zambrano will start against the Arizona Diamondbacks because ace Kerry Wood's (sore elbow and shoulder) first start has been pushed back to Thursday and Mark Prior will begin the season on the disabled list while he works back from an elbow injury.

Magglio Ordonez will play the first game of his eight-year career not in a White Sox uniform. When his Detroit Tigers host the Kansas City Royals, Jeremy Bonderman, at 22 the youngest opening day starter since 1986, will take the mound.

''It's a stepping stone to where I want to go,'' Bonderman said. ''Now, I have to go out and do something. I'm just excited to get a chance to feel what it's like to get to pitch on opening day.''

In what might be the best pitching matchup Monday, the Pittsburgh Pirates will send 24-year-old Oliver Perez against the visiting Milwaukee Brewers, who will start hard-throwing Ben Sheets. Between them, Sheets and Perez struck out 503 batters with a 2.83 ERA last season.

''This is where you want to be,'' Perez said of his first opening day start. ''This is what everybody wants to do.''

In other matchups Monday, Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana and the Minnesota Twins will play Ichiro Suzuki and the Seattle Mariners; the Cleveland Indians are at the Chicago White Sox and the Colorado Rockies host the San Diego Padres.

Ten more teams open up on Tuesday, when John Smoltz returns to the Atlanta Braves' starting rotation and faces the Florida Marlins, and the Texas Rangers play the renamed Los Angeles Angels.

Barry Bonds' pursuit of Aaron's coveted home run record is on hold. When the San Francisco Giants host the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday, the slugger will be rehabilitating his right knee, which was operated on twice in the offseason.

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