For the second night in a row, the Red Sox got a great performance from their starting pitcher. It was expected from Chris Sale on Tuesday, but it was merely hoped for from Rick Porcello on Wednesday. The 2016 Cy Young winner has been inconsistent, at best, this season, and really needed a big start off which he can hopefully build for a strong finish to the year. He came through with exactly what he needed, and did it against a team that has crushed him earlier in the year.
The offense put a lot of runs on the board, though much of that was due to Tampa Bay’s sloppy play. Of the eight runs the Red Sox scored, five were scored on an error, a passed ball or a wild pitch. It’s fair to say they didn’t exactly earn those runs, but they also got the runners on base in the first place to set up those situations, so they deserve a fair amount of credit. Andrew Benintendi stood out for the lineup with a three-hit day.
As things usually go for Porcello, it was a relatively rough first inning. He didn’t break in the inning, though. Generally speaking, this year has been marked by bad first innings in which he’s buried his team early in the game. This time, he gave up a couple baserunners on a double and a walk, but eventually was able to strand runners on the corners with a big strikeout to end the frame with a 0-0 score intact.
From here, he went into cruise control and showed off possibly the best combination of stuff and command that we’ve seen from the righty all year. After that first inning, Porcello retired the next 12 batters he faced and was absolutely dominant in the process. He struck out five batters in those four innings of work and didn’t really allow any hard contact through the run. Most impressively, it was capped off by an immaculate inning. He struck out all three batters in the fifth with nine total pitches, making him the second Red Sox pitcher to do that this season. Craig Kimbrel also accomplished the feat in May.
Things got a bit dicey in the sixth, as Porcello ended up his perfect streak and started to backslide just a tad. The inning started on a hanging slider up in the zone to Adeiny Hechavarria that the Rays shortstop clobbered for a home run and the first run of the night off Porcello. After the first out of the inning, Brad Miller hit a home run of his own and all of a sudden the Rays had two runs off Porcello. Porcello would come out for the seventh but allowed two runners without recording an out and was pulled from the game.
Things took a bit of a rough turn in the end, but all in all this was a very positive outing for Porcello. He had his best stuff going and was locating his pitches on a consistent basis for most of the outing. Most impressively, he was wildly efficient as he was at only 60 pitches through the first five innings. If Porcello can keep this up, the Red Sox have found their third starter.
On the other side of things, the offense had more success than they had against Austin Pruitt on Tuesday, but it was hardly conventional. They made some noise in the first with a couple of early hits, but they couldn’t score. There was a fair amount of bad luck involved, though, as Benintendi followed up a leadoff single from (who else?) Eduardo Nuñez with a sharply hit ball down the left field line. It looked like it should be a double and possibly a run, but it deflected off the third base bag and hit the umpire, holding Benintendi to a single and Nuñez at second. The Red Sox couldn’t come through with the right sequence to score the run from there.
After a quiet second they came through in the third thanks to a couple of crucial miscues by the Rays, something that would become a theme on the day. Benintendi started a rally by being gifted the double he was robbed of in the first, as he hit a fly ball to the wall in left field that bounced off the heel of Corey Dickerson’s glove. He did have to run a bit, but I thought it should have been an error. Either way, Benintendi moved over to second after a walk, and with two outs Mitch Moreland ripped a ground ball towards first base. Trevor Plouffe made a nice stop and after a bobble was still able to make a good flip to the bag that Jake Odorizzi was covering, but the Rays pitcher just dropped it. That allowed Moreland to reach and a hustling Benintendi to score from second, giving Boston a 1-0 lead.
The score would remain the same until the fifth, when things just got weird. It started off on a bad note, as Nuñez ripped a line drive up the middle that smacked off Odorizzi’s ankle. Nuñez would reach, but Odorizzi had to leave the game. With the bullpen now in the game for Tampa, the Red Sox hit two more singles in a row to give themselves a 2-0 lead with a couple on and nobody out. They’d intentionally walk Hanley Ramirez to load the bases, then Wilson Ramos allowed a passed ball for Boston’s third run. After a ground out and another intentional walk, Dan Jennings threw a wild pitch that allowed yet another run to score. Sandy Leon would come through with a single later in the inning to cap off the rally, and the Red Sox left the fifth with a 6-0 lead. They’d score two more in the eighth on an error and another wild pitch.
Out of the bullpen, it was Matt Barnes coming in for Porcello in that seventh with two on and nobody out. As he’s done so many times this year, he got out of the jam with ease, inducing a double play and a groundout to get out of it without any runs crossing the plate. Brandon Workman handled the eighth with a 1-2-3 inning. The ninth belonged to Joe Kelly in his first outing since returning from the disabled list, and he came through with a 1-2-3 inning of his own.
So, the Red Sox are now winners of their last eight and successfully took care of a quick two-game sweep in Tampa Bay. They now hold a 7.5 game lead over the Rays and continue to stick atop the American League East standings. The Yankees are also winning as I type this, so Boston’s lead may only stay at four games. Still, they will take this every time. They have another day off on Thursday before a big series in New York starts on Friday with Eduardo Rodriguez taking the hill.