By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — All year long, Rick Porcello was so consistent, so reliable, so undeniably good for the Red Sox, that there was really no choice for John Farrell when it came to naming a starter for Game 1 of the playoffs. It was Rick Porcello. It had to be Rick Porcello.
But the Porcello who took the mound Thursday night in Cleveland was not the same pitcher the Red Sox had seen every fifth day since April.
In the regular season, he averaged 6.2 innings per outing. On Thursday, he lasted 4.1 innings.
In the regular season, he allowed five earned runs just once in his 33 starts. On Thursday, he matched his season high.
In the regular season, he allowed three home runs in a single game just twice. On Thursday, he allowed three home runs in one inning.
And so, the $20 million man and Cy Young candidate finds himself with an 0-1 playoff record to his name with the Boston Red Sox.
“Yeah, obviously it’s tough,” he said after the Indians won Game 1 of the ALDS by a 5-4 score. “You go out there and give up five runs, that’s never how you want to start a playoff series off.”
The Red Sox staked Porcello to a 1-0 lead right off the bat, when Hanley Ramirez’s double scored Dustin Pedroia in the top of the first. But Porcello surrendered that lead in the second inning, giving up consecutive hits to Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall. A better throw from center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. could have got Ramirez at the plate, but the throw went wide and the score was tied.
The Boston offense once again gave Porcello a lead in the top of the third, when rookie Andrew Benintendi led off with a solo home run to right field. It gave the Red Sox a 2-1 lead, but it proved to be a sign of things to come.
Cleveland’s catcher and No. 9 hitter led off the bottom of the inning with a homer. Two batters later, Jason Kipnis went deep. Francisco Lindor next made it a back-to-back celebration. All were solo homers, all went to right field, and all contributed to the Indians taking a lead which they would hold on to for the remainder of the evening.
Porcello was obviously nonplussed with the results, but even after the loss he held confidence in the pitches he threw to Perez and Lindor.
“Got into a 3-2 count against Perez, didn’t want to walk him, came after him with a fastball, and he hit it out of the ballpark. It is what it is there,” Porcello explained. “The situation with Kipnis was just a bad pitch, it was elevated up in the zone, gave him a good pitch to handle on an 0-1 count. I really don’t want to give him something that he can drive there, let alone hit it out of the ballpark. And then a changeup to Lindor, I mean, I’ve thrown that pitch a lot that year and haven’t really gotten hurt by it. I got hurt by it there.
“So, you can kind of spin it however you want to spin it. I threw the pitches I thought were going to be the best pitches to throw, and they hit three balls out of the ballpark.”
The facts back up Porcello’s confidence. According to Fangraphs, his fastball and changeup have been highly effective pitches this season. Thursday’s result left him with nothing left to but tip his cap.
Considering the two teams combined for six solo home runs — all to right field — it became clear that the ball was carrying in that direction all night long. Porcello said he didn’t expect two of those home runs to clear the fence, but even after they did, he felt in control of his outing.
“I felt fine,” he said. “It was kind of a weird inning with them hitting the three home runs, but I felt fine. I just had to get back in command of the game and start executing pitches a little bit better.”
He did — briefly — retiring the Indians in order in the fourth. But in the fifth, he allowed a leadoff single and then retired a batter before Farrell made the move to go to the bullpen.
“It happens, man,” David Ortiz said of Porcello’s outing. “He ain’t perfect. He’s a human being, just like everybody else. He left a couple of pitches over the plate and unfortunately that’s what happened. But he’s a human.”
The Red Sox still had their chances, including having the tying run on third base in the eighth inning, but their 14 strikeouts proved to be prohibitive to the team completing the comeback.
The team will have its chance to bounce back quickly, with Game 2 scheduled for Friday afternoon. But if the season ends before Porcello gets another chance to pitch in the postseason, a Cy Young-worthy season will have ended on a distinctly sour note.