Rick Porcello stole the show in the series opener between the Nationals and Red Sox on Monday. Not only did he put forth a strong performance on the mound, allowing just a couple of solo homers over six innings to outduel Max Scherzer, but he also provided the offense. Early in the game Porcello smacked a bases-clearing double that looked like it would be the difference for much of the night. Porcello didn’t do it all by himself — Mookie Betts hit a big home run and Brock Holt had a strong night at the plate — but it was about as close as it possibly can be.
This was, in every way, shape and form, the Rick Porcello game. He provided the offense against Max Scherzer because the National League thinks it’s still 1932 and pitchers need to hit. He also shut down the Nationals offense, oudueling his former teammate who also happens to be the best pitcher in baseball right now. This is the kind of game you remember for ever if you are a player, and you can bet Porcello is going to be telling his grandkids about the time he single-handedly won a baseball game against Max Scherzer.
We’ll start with his heroics at the plate, because that was the real shocking part of this game. That came in the second inning after Scherzer put forth a dominant 1-2-3 first. This rally started with a Mitch Moreland single, and Brock Holt would get hit by a pitch to put two on. Sandy León struck out in the next at bat, but it was a bizarre strikeout as the final pitch actually went through his legs and to the backstop. That advanced both runners to scoring position with two outs, and that was important. Jackie Bradley Jr. was up next but they intentionally walked him to get to Porcello. An easy move ever manager would make. Except, after quickly going down 0-2, the Red Sox starter ripped a fastball over Juan Soto’s head in left field for a bases-clearing double. Somehow, improbably, the Red Sox took a 3-0 lead.
That was the play we’ll remember for Porcello in this game, but he was pretty damn good on the mound as well. Washington’s lineup hasn’t had great success this year, but there is an undeniable amount of talent in that group and they have the talent to go off on any given day. Porcello wasn’t perfect and fell into Eduardo Rodriguez-like habits in which he failed to attack properly after getting up in the count. Overall, though, he had his pitches working and his command was there for him throughout most of the night.
The first inning included one of those frustrating at bats when Porcello went up 0-2 on Juan Soto before throwing four straight balls to allow a walk. He’d work around it for a scoreless inning, though. After knocking in those three runs in the top of the second, he came out in the bottom of the inning and worked around two singles largely thanks to a great throw by Mookie Betts to cut down Daniel Murphy trying to advance from first to third. Porcello then came back and worked around one single in the third for another scoreless frame.
In the fourth, he started to let the Nationals back in it a bit on one swing. Anthony Rendon led off the inning, and he got a slider that stayed middle-in. The third baseman crushed it over the bullpen in left field for a solo shot, cutting the Red Sox lead down to two. The good news is Porcello didn’t spiral after that. Soto would get a bloop single later in the inning, but that was it.
After working around a walk and a single in the fifth, Porcello gave another run back in the sixth. This time, it was Murphy, who came to the plate with one out and the bases empty. The lefty got a fastball up in the zone over the middle of the plate and he smoked it out to right field for another solo homer. All of a sudden the lead was down to one.
The lead was only one run because, besides that second inning, the Red Sox couldn’t do much against Scherzer. Granted, nobody can do much against Scherzer because he’s the two-time defending Cy Young who looks well on his way to a third straight. Honestly, all things considered they were pretty impressive against the righty as they were able to make him work, especially early on.
We know how that second inning went when they scored the three runs, but the third inning was almost as impressive, albeit without runs. That inning only saw two baserunners — Xander Bogaerts was hit with a pitch and Brock Holt ripped a single to cap off an eleven-pitch at bat — but Scherzer threw 35 pitches and was destined for a relatively early exit after that. At least, that was the hope.
The Red Sox weren’t able to knock him out too early, though, as he turned into his dominant self over the next few innings. In the fourth, fifth and sixth, the Red Sox managed just two baserunners, and one was on another intentional walk to Jackie Bradley Jr. That sixth inning ended Scherzer’s night, though.
That was a good thing for the Red Sox, as they got back on the scoreboard in the seventh with Brandon Kintzler on the mound. Betts led off that inning, and he got a 1-2 sinker down in the zoner and he obliterated it. The ball traveled 430 feet to left-center field and just like that the lead was back up to two.
In the bottom of the seventh, Matt Barnes took over for Porcello to try and preserve the lead. He got into a little bit of trouble allowing a single and a walk, but he worked his way around the baserunners to toss a scoreless inning.
After the Red Sox went down in a scoreless eighth, Joe Kelly came on for the bottom half and did not get off to a good start. Bryce Harper led off the inning and he crushed a middle-middle fastball way out to right field to cut Boston’s lead down to one. Kelly would get a couple of outs after that, but after walking Mark Reynolds with two outs his night was over. Alex Cora called for Craig Kimbrel with two outs in the eighth. He induced a routine fly ball to end the inning.
Boston’s offense would once again fail to score in the ninth, bringing Kimbrel back out to protect the one-run lead. He got the first two outs on a strikeout and a fly out before getting up 0-2 on Soto. He’d end up walking him though — with a clear strike three being called a ball — to put the tying run on base. After falling behind 3-0, he was able to induce a line out from Rendon to end the inning and the game.
The Red Sox will look to clinch a series victory in Washington on Tuesday in the second game of this series. Boston will send Brian Johnson to the mound with Tanner Roark going for the Nationals. First pitch is at 6:05 PM ET.