Rick Porcello needed a good start after getting shelled his last time out and just generally being mediocre to start this season. He did his job, keeping the ball on the ground for the majority of the game. And yet he still took the loss, because he got no support from the team behind him.
In the first inning, it looked like we might see something of a retro Porcello performance. He was keeping the ball down, and he was keeping it out of the air. As we know, that is key for him. Although Kevin Pillar reached on a leadoff single, it came on a grounder up the middle. After that, Porcello got out of the inning with three consecutive ground outs.
The second inning should have gone just about the same way, but the defense behind Boston’s starter let him down. Things started off with a grounder to Pablo Sandoval at third base. It was a routine play, and Sandoval fielded it cleanly but then airmailed the throw to first base. It was his third error of the year, and while his swing has looked a bit better than his offensive numbers may indicate he’s still been disappointing with the glove this season. Immediately following that, Russell Martin hit a grounder down the other line, and Mitch Moreland tried to backhand it, presumably so he could possibly attempt to turn a double play. Instead, the ball went right off the glove and into right field. Moreland is a good defensive first baseman, but he should have gotten in front of that one. If he had, they’d have gotten the one out, at least.
So, instead of getting two quick groundouts to start the frame, Porcello had two runners in scoring position with nobody out. He came back strong to start, getting Justin Smoak to strike out on a high fastball for the first out. For a quick moment, there was hope the reigning Cy Young winner could get out of it. Instead, he allowed a ground ball that snuck through the middle to Darwin Barney, scoring both runners. After Barney moved over to second on another single from Pillar, he was able to score on an RBI single from Ezequiel Carrera to put Toronto up 3-0.
That was all the damage that would be done off Porcello, and while it was a long and painful inning, it wasn’t really that bad of one for the Red Sox starter. Obviously, those two errors to start the frame were killers. Even beyond that, though, the three singles Porcello allowed all game on the ground and weren’t exactly crushed. They were just balls that found holes. After that inning, he allowed a leadoff walk in the third then promptly retired nine straight. He’d then allow a hit to start the sixth and retire three more in a row to finish off this inning.
It seemed like he might be done for the night at exactly 100 pitches, but John Farrell sent him back out for the seventh. He did allow another baserunner on Pillar’s third single of the day, and the Jays center field made it two third on a couple of swiped bags. Regardless, Porcello got a flyout and strikeout to end the inning unscathed. That ended his outing with seven strong innings, an important detail given the work Boston’s bullpen has been put through of late. It’s also worth noting that it appeared Porcello was leaning a bit more on his secondaries against the Blue Jays, specifically relying heavily on the curveball.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense just couldn’t get anything going against Francisco Liriano. As I’ve said, he’s one of those pitchers that can look like the best pitcher in baseball some nights and the worst in others. Tonight was one of those first kinds. He was locating his pitches, and his slider in particular was fooling Boston bats. They went down easy in a 1-2-3 first before getting just one baserunner in the second.
After a 1-2-3 third inning, they got another single baserunner in the fourth, only this time they reached on an error rather than a single. Also of note in this inning: Mookie Betts finally struck out. That ended his streak at 129 plate appearances without a K, which is an amazing feat. After that, the Red Sox got a couple base runners in the fifth against Liriano, but the lefty got out of the jam by getting Sandy Leon to ground into a 4-6-3 double play. They would get two more on in the sixth, which led to Liriano being lifted in favor of the righty Joe Biagini to face Hanley Ramirez. The hope was this change could spark a run by the offense. Instead, Ramirez grounded into yet another inning-ending double play and killing another rally.
That brings us to the top of the eighth, with Jason Grilli coming on to replace Biagini. It was a promising start for the Sox, as Sandoval put a nice swing on the ball to single to right field. After that, though, Leon struck out (his second of the night, to go with that big double play) and Dustin Pedroia hit a ground ball that bounced off the mound and over to the first baseman for the out. This left Sandoval at second with two outs and Andrew Benintendi at the plate. The rookie would draw a big walk to give Betts a chance to tie the game with one swing of the bat. He couldn’t come through, though, instead grounding out to shortstop to end the inning.
That brought out Eduardo Rodriguez for the bottom of the inning, as the lefty was just getting a little work in before his start against Baltimore this weekend. It was the first time he’s come out of the bullpen in the majors, and just the second since turning pro. It went well, to say the least, as he had a clean 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts.
So, it was up to the middle of the lineup to put together a late-game rally against Roberto Osuna, one of the best relievers in all of baseball. Ramirez couldn’t get it started, leading off the inning with a groundout to shortstop. After striking out in his first three at bats, Moreland finally came through with a single down the left field line. It looked like it might get down into the corner for yet another double, but it kicked off the wall towards the left fielder to hold Moreland to one. Xander Bogaerts couldn’t move him along, instead striking out on a high fastball to give Osuna his second out. Chris Young then grounded out to third, and the game was over.
Boston’s four-game win streak was snapped, and Porcello took a loss he definitely did not deserve. No, this one was on the defense that led to the runs he allowed in that second inning and the offense that couldn’t get anything going. Liriano deserves a ton of credit for the way he pitched, but the Red Sox had some baserunners but couldn’t find a way to move them along. Luckily, they won’t have to think about this loss too long as they come right back early tomorrow afternoon with Chris Sale on the hill.