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Eckersley defuses Tigers, 9-4 Fox's slam gives A's ace a cushion


OAKLAND, Calif. -- Welcome to a new season, Dennis Eckersley. Please say hello to Cecil Fielder, Kirk Gibson and Rob Deer on your way through the door.

Eckersley launched the Oakland A's season by breezing through the heart of Detroit's dangerous lineup last night. In the process, he saved Oakland's 9-4 victory.

The margin of victory grew when Eric Fox hit a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning. That gave Eckersley a comfortable cushion for the ninth.

The win went to starting pitcher Bob Welch and was the 200th of his career. He became the 92nd pitcher in major-league history to win at least 200 games.

Eckersley showed up with the A's leading 5-4, one out in the eighth and Tigers runners at first and second. Fielder loomed at home plate, with his monstrous arms and 130 home runs in the past three seasons.

No matter. Fielder swung and missed at a fastball for strike one, fouled off Eckersley's next pitch for strike two and swung and missed again for strike three. Adios.

On the last pitch, baserunners Tony Phillips and Travis Fryman pulled off a double steal. This proved entirely significant, because it allowed Eckersley to intentionally walk the next hitter, Gibson.

Yes, him again.

This was the first Eckersley-Gibson "duel" since they became historically linked in 1988. Remember that? Gibson, then with the Dodgers, hobbled to home plate in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the World Series. He blasted his famous, game-winning home run off Eckersley, forever preserved on videotape.

This time, Eckersley purposely threw four wide pitches. Then he resumed his machine-like display, striking out Deer on four pitches to end the inning and, effectively, the game.

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