Porcello pitches in
Starter’s rebound benefits Sox
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Rick Porcello did not look like a pitcher who had a chance at becoming just the second since 1980 to lose 20 games in a season.
No, Porcello looked much more like the Cy Young Award winner who went 22-4 a year ago.
Porcello put on a clinic in last night’s 3-1 Red Sox win at Tropicana Field, where he carved up the Tampa Bay Rays for 71⁄3 innings, allowing just one unearned run, which came in his final frame. The starter threw an efficient 94 pitches (63 for strikes), then turned things over to the bullpen.
“Story of the game was Porcello,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Obviously, he was pretty tough on us.”
Addison Reed and Craig Kimbrel (save No. 33) finished up, assuring the first-place Sox would keep their three-game lead over the New York Yankees in the AL East.
Porcello (10-17) was running out of time to prove worthy of making a postseason start. Now, with two starts remaining, he has a chance to finish the season with a dozen wins.
“When we score runs for him, he’s as good of a pitcher as we’ve seen all of last year,” manager John Farrell said. “And I know the ERA is a little inflated this year (4.46), but we score three or more runs for him and we’re in pretty good shape with him on the mound.”
The numbers were all lopsided heading into this start. Porcello led the majors in losses and had a chance to become the first pitcher since Mike Maroth, for the Detroit Tigers in 2003, to lose 20 games. He led the majors in home runs allowed (35) but rarely gave up hard contact in this one. He led the majors in hits allowed (220) but gave up just five to Tampa Bay.
And this start was against a Rays team that knocked Chris Sale around for four runs the previous night in the series opener, when the Sox needed 15 innings to score a 13-6 victory.
This was not the same Porcello who took the mound against the Rays at Fenway Park last Sunday, the one who gave up only two runs in five innings but inspired such little confidence that Farrell yanked him before the sixth. This time, Porcello was much more efficient, and he didn’t walk a batter until the eighth inning.
“My last start, I needed to be better,” Porcello said. “I hit a wall, and I didn’t have enough of a mix to keep them off-balance. They were pretty much on to me.
“The focus tonight was to change eye levels, use the breaking ball more below the zone and expand to use their aggressiveness to our advantage and try not to get into these midcount foul-ball battles by elevating fastballs.”
It was interesting to note, however, that as dominant as Porcello was in this start, as soon as he ran into some trouble in the eighth with the Red Sox up three runs, giving up a double to Adeiny Hechavarria and walking Mallex Smith, Farrell gave him the hook.
Reed came on and induced a grounder, but first baseman Mitch Moreland threw a ball into Smith’s back at second base, the error allowing Hechavarria to score an unearned run.
“That’s why he’s here,” Farrell said of Reed. “And there’s been a couple hiccups along the way, but I like the way his ball cuts and a slider, can induce some soft contact on the ground with lateness to the slider. That was a spot for him.”
Mookie Betts has been anything but hot, entering the middle game of the series with a .239 average and .738 OPS since the start of August.
And when Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb tried going inside on Betts in his first plate appearance in the second inning, he took the first pitch for a strike. But not the second one. This inside offering was sent a over the left field wall for a home run, a no-doubter for his 22nd of the season.
It was Betts again who stepped up in the sixth inning, driving in a run with a single and then scoring when Rafael Devers cranked a double.
GOOD START: Rick Porcello pats catcher Christian Vazquez on the back after being taken out by John Farrell in the eighth inning of last night’s Red Sox win against the Rays.