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Chris Sale showing flashes of Pedro Martinez in Boston start

BOSTON -- Nineteen years later, Dennis Eckersley still remembers the view from the bullpen of Pedro Martinez mowing down batter after overmatched batter in his first three starts for the Boston Red Sox.

It looked a lot like what we've seen so far from Chris Sale.

"Pretty darn close," Eckersley, who spent the last year of his Hall of Fame career back with the Red Sox in 1998, said via text message Saturday night. "Guy punches out 10 or more just to stay in shape like Pedro. Love it!"

With his first three starts in 1998, Martinez set the bar ridiculously high for every new Red Sox ace who has followed. But Sale has come closer than any other to actually clearing it.

Just consider the numbers:

  • Martinez: 23 innings, 12 hits, 1 run, 7 walks, 32 strikeouts.

  • Sale: 21 2/3 innings, 11 hits, 3 runs, 5 walks, 29 strikeouts.

In his latest gem, Sale dominated the Tampa Bay Rays for seven innings Saturday at Fenway Park. Other than a hiccup in the third inning, when the lefty gave up a run, two hits and two walks, the Rays didn't have a prayer.

Sale struck out 12 batters, including five in a row during a stretch in which he retired the final 10 batters he faced. He was good to the last drop, too, dialing up a 96 mph fastball on his 111th pitch, fanning Kevin Kiermaier to end the seventh inning.

Just like his previous two starts, Sale received almost no run support. But the Red Sox scratched out the go-ahead run in the seventh inning on Sandy Leon's bases-loaded RBI groundout and held on for a 2-1 victory, Sale's first win with his new team.

"Being here for a couple of weeks now and going through it, it's nice to get that one [win] over with and we can keep cruising," Sale said. "Getting, I guess, the proverbial monkey off your back is nice. It makes you feel more comfortable."

If this is the way Sale pitches when he's weighed down by a monkey, imagine how he must do unencumbered.

None of this is a surprise, of course. Sale did this for years with the Chicago White Sox, even entering Saturday with more strikeouts through 150 starts (1,149) than any pitcher in baseball history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Now he joins Martinez in 1998 as the only Red Sox pitchers since 1913 to pitch at least seven innings, give up no more than two runs and strike out at least seven batters in his first three games of a season.

Martinez's starts were must-see events in Boston, with Dominican flags and placards for each strikeout posted in the bleachers. The "K" cards are back in center field for Sale. So, too, is the buzz.

Across the majors, Saturday marked the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's major league debut. The Red Sox also paused to mark four years since the Boston Marathon bombing. But it was also Chris Sale Day at Fenway, an occasion that doesn't go unnoticed.

"It's worth the price of admission just to see him," manager John Farrell said.

And that's saying something, considering the average ticket price at Fenway is about $55, the highest in baseball.

Before the game, the Red Sox's hitters held an unusual players-only meeting. And although details were sketchy, it's fair to assume they are still finding their way as a lineup in the wake of David Ortiz's retirement.

The offense has been at its weakest in Sale's starts, a trend Sale is confident won't continue. But if it does?

Martinez actually dealt with that, too, at times during his Red Sox career. The Sox scored three runs for him in his first two starts in 1998, then broke out in his third start, a 5-0 shutout of the Seattle Mariners in which he struck out 12 batters.

"That's how you like it, man," Sale said. "I like that. I like going out there and being in those games. I want to be that guy that can get a 'W' in those games. If they've all got to be like that, so be it. I look forward to that challenge."

And everyone, it seems, just wants to see more of Sale, regardless of the circumstances.

"Look forward to watching him every five days," Eckersley said. "Just like Pedro."