Thank you, Rick Porcello.
(And Travis Shaw. And Hanley Ramirez.)
The Red Sox have dealt with a lot of ugly, ugly performances of late. On the mound moreso than anywhere else. Tuesday night, Rick Porcello finally gave them something different. Something good.
For the first three innings, Porcello looked excellent. The Rays were not completely incapable of hitting him; Evan Longoria in particular was putting on a bit of a clinic, but that was more a matter of fantastic hitting beating good pitching. Outside of him, it was a flare, strikeouts, and ground balls. The perfect beginning to a Rick Porcello start.
The Red Sox lineup, for their part, were hitting, and in a fairly encouraging manner. While Mookie Betts came up just short on a home run to lead off the game, with Desmond Jennings crashing into the wall in the deepest part of the park as he robbed Betts of extra bases, the Sox would get on the board when Travis Shaw very much did not miss to lead off the second, nearly finding the back row in right field as he left the park for the first time in a month. In the third, Betts led off with a double, then scored when David Ortiz hit one of his own to make it 2-0.
Two runs is a nice total, but not huge through three innings. But there was more going on to make that quite so encouraging. For one thing, seeing Shaw go deep is a big positive for the Red Sox right now. Even though he hasn't broken out of his slump in recent weeks, he has at least started to reach base. The real missing element has been the power, and Shaw delivered a great deal of that here. Meanwhile, Hanley Ramirez, another one of Boston's big question marks in the lineup this past month, kept up his recent surge by singling and drawing a walk before that third inning was done. Shaw would strike out to leave the bases loaded in the third, but at the very least the Sox were proving a real threat to Chris Archer.
In the fourth, though, the Red Sox seemed headed for another disaster. And it really fit perfectly into the team's recent penchant for screwing up in new and inventive ways. If there's one thing that has absolutely not been a problem for Rick Porcello this year, it's been control. He's kept his walks lower than in any other year of his career. So when he came out and walked Desmond Jennings, gave up a bloop single to Oswaldo Arcia, and then threw just five pitches in giving Taylor Motter first base for free, it was not a great sign for a snakebit Red Sox team, to say the least.
Then he walked Nick Franklin, bringing in a run. I swear, after this past month, it felt like the Red Sox were already behind. And really, with the bases loaded, zero outs, and one run separating them from the Rays, they pretty much were.
This time, though, something different happened. Rick Porcello did not cave. He got Hank Conger to swing through a fastball, induced a weak fly ball from Logan Forsythe that Mookie was able to grab, keeping Arcia at third, and then struck out Brad Miller looking. The inning was over, the lead was intact, and the Red Sox were, for once, spared.
And from there? It was smooth sailing, by-and-large. We got another appearance from Hustlin' Hanley as he drew another walk and raced in from first to score on a double from Jackie Bradley Jr. in the fifth. Then two innings later, Ramirez and Shaw broke things open, driving in three runs between them on a flare and a rather louder double respectively. Junichi Tazawa would give up a solo shot which, y'know, would've been nice to avoid. But beggars cannot be choosers, and the Sox repaid the Rays with two more in the ninth as Hanley completed his perfect day with an intentional walk and Shaw drove in two more with his third hit of the night.
About the only complaint you can have from this game is that Porcello only went six innings. And maybe that it came against the Rays. We'd like to see them play like this against the Rangers, say, but with how badly everything has gone this past month, and even moreso this past week, the Red Sox will gladly take a strong game like this against any opponent. It's only one game. The same problems face the rotation tonight as faced them yesterday. They still need to get better. But at least they've got this to work with.