BOSTON -- If the Red Sox’s recent surge continues to blossom into something greater, there will be many watershed moments within the turnaround. One might have occurred in the top of the fourth inning Wednesday night against the Miami Marlins.
Ahead 4-2 but struggling to escape the kind of inning that had been his downfall in a dismal first half, Boston starter Rick Porcello called for catcher Ryan Hanigan to step forward so the two could hash out some discrepancies. The pair met between the mound and home plate, ensured they were on the same page, and conjured up the pitch that resulted in the long-awaited final out on a comebacker stabbed by Porcello.
He threw to first, stranding three runners, and followed it up with two perfect frames to help deliver the Sox their first four-game winning streak of the season, a 6-3 victory that provided Porcello with his first win in nearly two months. It also served to give Porcello some momentum entering the All-Star break. That was a stretch many thought should be part of a lengthy layoff for the struggling righty, if the Sox had chosen to skip his turn in the rotation.
Porcello did not share in that thinking.
“We’re a team here. We need to support everybody, support each other. I never doubted I was going to make my next start,” said Porcello, who entered Wednesday with the worst ERA (6.08) among qualified pitchers in the American League. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s not always going to be going great for you. To me, the support and everything that I’ve had from the coaching staff has been huge.”
Also looming large is the pairing with Hanigan. In four starts pitching to Hanigan, Porcello owns a 3.60 ERA. The battery had not been together since Porcello allowed a run in seven dominant innings against a high-powered Toronto team on April 29, days before Hanigan broke a finger.
The veteran catcher was quick to deflect praise to Porcello on Wednesday, but acknowledged their pairing could help set Porcello, a 15-game winner in 2014, on the right path.
“With Porcello we had a good thing going before I got hurt, so I think that’s just a little bit of a bond we built,” said Hanigan, who also drew two walks and scored Boston’s first run. “Nothing against the way these other [catchers] are doing the job. They’re doing a good job. I’m feeling a groove with him. I like catching him. I was really happy for him with the way things went. Quality start; we’ll build from it. I want him to get to the point where he can dominate the game, have some really shutdown games.
“One step at a time. Tonight was a good start.”
Porcello, who had not given up more than 18 home runs in each of his last five seasons, was already up to 16 entering Wednesday. Hard contact, much of it deep into the night, had plagued him. While the Marlins had eight hits in Porcello’s six innings Wednesday, all were singles and very few caused concern.
Porcello said he was OK with limiting damage as long as the hits were soft. Hanigan even took blame for calling pitches that Porcello executed, but were stroked into the outfield. Manager John Farrell also acknowledged a much different rally than those from which Porcello has been unable to recover in the past.
“The string of hits were much different than we’ve seen,” Farrell said. “Yeah, there was a line drive or two, but there wasn’t the ball to the pull side for extra-base hits that might have caused greater damage. Stayed with his approach, pitched to contact. Couple of balls found some holes, but he had some key double plays early in the game to allow him to get in a little bit of a rhythm. He came out of that fourth inning in good fashion.”
Porcello retired eight batters in a row to finish his evening. While he might have still had something in the tank, the decision was made by Farrell to hand it over to the bullpen for the final three innings and allow his starter to exit on a high note.
Hanigan then got the Sox to the finish line. They improved to 14-8 with the 34-year-old starting behind the plate. Expect him there again when Porcello takes the mound for his next turn following the break, likely on the road against the Angels.
“Hanny called a great game back there. Just hung in there with him and focused on making pitch after pitch,” Porcello said. “It’s huge. He’s an experienced, veteran catcher. I trust him. Just follow his lead.”
Farrell elaborated on that subject and how it has begun to transform the staff.
“There’s no substitute for experience,” he said. “Hanny’s track record is clearly playing out as we had hoped or anticipated. He’s a very good game-caller.”
And for a night, he helped to calm the rough waters surrounding Porcello, which could end up being a massive development if this Red Sox turnaround continues.