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Defending champion Red Sox open season against Mariners

When the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox travel to Seattle for their season opener Thursday, they'll face the team with the best record in the majors.

No, really.

The Seattle Mariners started their season last week, sweeping the Oakland Athletics in a two-game series in Japan.

That puts the Mariners at 2-0, the Athletics at 0-2 and the rest of baseball still at 0-0.

The series also was the finale for outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, who announced his retirement in his native country.

"I thought it would be great for our team, just bringing so many new guys, bringing everybody together," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "The travel, going to a different country, you tend to gravitate towards everybody else you're familiar with. Then to top it off with everything that went down with Ichiro. Really couldn't have gone any better -- and by the way, we did win two games. That kind of gets overlooked."

Left-hander Marco Gonzales is scheduled to start Thursday for the Mariners against Boston lefty Chris Sale.

Gonzales also started the first game in Japan, breaking teammate Felix Hernandez's streak of taking the mound in 10 straight openers, and got the victory. In a 9-7 game, Gonzales went six innings, allowing seven hits and four runs (three earned), with one walk and four strikeouts. Most of the damage came on home runs by Oakland's Khris Davis and Stephen Piscotty.

Gonzales threw only 69 pitches and did not allow a run over his final three innings.

"I'm always going to want another inning," Gonzales told the Seattle Times. "The competitor in me says yes, but I understand where we are at in the season. This is the first one. It's something to build off of."

The key hit in the opener was a grand slam by newcomer Domingo Santana.

The Mariners have plenty of new faces. General manager Jerry Dipoto opted for a "step back" plan in the offseason, trading away Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jean Segura, Mike Zunino and James Paxton and letting Nelson Cruz walk as a free agent. The moves were made to replenish a farm system near the bottom of most rankings and put Seattle in place to contend in the 2020s.

The Red Sox are ready to win now, just as they did last season.

Sale was signed to a five-year, $145 million contract extension last weekend and then went out and pitched five scoreless innings against Pittsburgh in an exhibition game, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out six.

"We saw it last year," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Sale. "He started Opening Day and he started every (Game 1 in the postseason) after that. He's our Opening Day starter (again in 2019). Everyone knows how good he is and what he brings to the table, not only on the field but off the field. He's one of the best."

Sale (12-4, 2.11 ERA in 2018) is 6-1 with a 1.88 ERA in 11 career appearances against the Mariners, including nine starts. Gonzales (13-9, 4.00 last season) lost his only previous start against the Red Sox, allowing five runs and seven hits in six innings.

The Red Sox also feature reigning American League MVP Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, who took home Silver Slugger awards at two positions last season.

--Field Level Media