BOSTON – It’s not often that a pitcher gives up five runs in 6⅔ innings of a sometimes-sloppy 8-7 win and is given a rather loud ovation upon exiting a game. Such was the case on Sunday with Rick Porcello, whose line was not fully representative of how well he pitched.
And, to be frank, Fenway Park is becoming Porcello’s playground. Scenes like that are commonplace for the resurgent Boston Red Sox right-hander.
“I’ve got quite a few starts at home. I feel comfortable pitching at home,” he said after improving to 13-2 with a victory over the Minnesota Twins. “Our crowd. I think we play good baseball. All of the above.”
Within that 13-2 record is a 10-0 mark at home, making Porcello the first Red Sox pitcher to open with 10 straight victories at Fenway since 1961 (Don Schwall). Boston is 11-0 in his home starts this season.
In a year when the rotation has seen an ace turn ordinary, a career minor leaguer become an All-Star and a rotation regular get banished to the bullpen, Porcello has been the steadying force.
“It’s not a surprise because the way he prepares,” manager John Farrell said. “The way he’s shown competitive fire on the mound, the way he doesn’t give in in particular spots, in certain situations, he’s been a constant. We talk so much about [being] dependable and reliable with guys. He embodies that, he epitomizes that.”
Porcello was on the wrong end of a 2-0 score early in this one, but that Twins rally was helped along by an error by shortstop Xander Bogaerts and a passed ball. Minnesota scraped together two more in the seventh after right fielder Brock Holt lost a fly ball in the sun. It was ruled a double and it put two Twins in scoring position, in line to further mar Porcello’s deceiving line.
If a couple of makeable defensive plays were made behind him, Porcello would be sporting a slightly shinier ERA and might’ve had enough to work beyond the seventh inning for the first time in 2016. He’s not one to dwell on such matters, however.
“That’s baseball. Over the course of 162 games, so many things can happen,” he said. “You just have to keep battling.”
Farrell noted that aspect of Porcello’s game earlier and also felt that his righty deserved better at various times Sunday.
“Yeah, much better,” Farrell said. “They found some holes early on. We probably didn’t execute ... defensively to give them an extra out early on. Then he gets a fly ball to right field; at that time of the day it's a tough sun field. Unfortunately it bounces off of Brock’s glove. Once again, he’s keeping the game under control. He got a number of runs to work with here today, we did a great job offensively, but Rick is in a very good place here in Fenway.”
The 27-year-old has a 3.21 ERA over his 11 home starts and has won a career-high seven straight decisions. His quality effort, along with some solid run support, made for the perfect elixir for Farrell, who was not operating with a full set of tools Sunday. Designated hitter David Ortiz was given the day off and right fielder Mookie Betts was held out of a second straight game due to a knee issue. Both were available to come off the bench, Farrell said, but he never needed them. They should be good to go when the Sox host Detroit on Monday night.
Additionally, the back end of the bullpen has been so battered by injuries that getting a bridge to the ninth has proven difficult, and any help in making that bridge a bit shorter is appreciated. While Porcello still has yet to last beyond seven innings this year, he has finished at least six in 17 of his 20 starts.
Those numbers might not jump off the page, but the Sox recognize the value therein. The same goes for an appreciative crowd Sunday at Fenway Park, where Porcello extended an impressive unbeaten streak.