By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Max Scherzer is without question one of the single best pitchers in all of baseball. There’s even less doubt that Rick Porcello is one of the worst hitters in the majors.
But the funny thing about baseball is that nothing ever really matters, and sometimes the stats and the history can all get thrown out the window. Sometimes there’s just a guy throwing a ball toward a guy holding a bat. And occasionally, something unpredictable happens.
That was surely the case on Monday night in Washington. Scherzer was on the mound for the Nationals, sporting a 12-5 record and a cool 2.05 ERA. He got into a bit of trouble in the top of the second inning, allowing a single to Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland and then hitting Brock Holt with a pitch. After Sandy Leon struck out swinging at a pitch that went through his legs, though, Scherzer seemed to have navigated himself out of the jam. He intentionally walked Jackie Bradley Jr. to load the bases for Porcello.
Porcello entered the night with five career hits in 32 at-bats. All of those hits were singles, and his 14 strikeouts indicated that he probably wouldn’t stand a chance against the three-time Cy Young winner and five-time All-Star. When Porcello waved helplessly at strikes one and two, all seemed to be going according to plan.
But then — even as the ESPN crew broadcasting the game was mocking his chances of getting a hit — Porcello absolutely crushed an 0-2 fastball, sending it over the head of left fielder Juan Soto and sending all three runners across the plate.
Once he stood safely on first base, Porcello finally cracked a smile as he tipped his cap toward his own dugout.
“That was awesome,” Porcello said of his teammates’ reaction. “That was the best part, seeing everybody going crazy.”
As for the hit itself, Porcello didn’t credit his hard work in the video room or all of the swings he took in the cage over the past week or two. He basically said he blacked out.
“I wish I had a lot to say about that, but I don’t really know what happened,” Porcello admitted. “I just, obviously I know he’s got a big fastball, and I got lucky. He got to the top of his windup, and I told myself, ‘Start swinging.’ And I hit it.”
When asked if he was thinking about Scherzer’s sequencing, Porcello just said, “I mean. We hit once a year. I’m not trying to get too in-depth with anything. Trying to keep it simple and get the head out.”
“Yeah obviously, you want to put the ball in play, get a hit, score some runs, because it’s Max Scherzer and not a lot of runs are scored off of him,” Porcello said. “But there’s only so much you can do. I mean, I got lucky and I got that hit. But you don’t hit for an entire year and you don’t know what it’s even going to look like once you step in there. I was thinking swing the bat and be competitive up there, but you never know what’s going to happen just because we don’t do it that often.”
The lack of experience when it comes to hitting blasts into left field nearly cost Porcello on the bases, too.
“Well I almost missed first base, so that was the first thing. I kept running and all of a sudden [first base coach Tom Goodwin] was behind me, so that wasn’t good,” Porcello said. “Then I got onto second base and it kind of set in that we scored, and scored three runs, which for this game was huge. I don’t know, it was just a cool moment, and I was pretty excited.”
The runs were significant, as Boston scored just once more on the evening to narrowly win, 4-3, to reclaim first place in the AL East.
While nobody in the world expected Porcello to come through with that hit in that moment against that pitcher, teammate Mookie Betts didn’t seem altogether shocked by the result.
“That’s just Rick’s personality. No matter what it is, he’s going to compete,” said Betts, who homered in the win and made a tremendous throw from right field to nab a runner at third base. “Playing cards, playing ping-pong. Whatever it is, he’s going to compete. So we know in his profession, he’s going to go out there and do what he can. And he went out there and showed zero fear and got in there swinging.”
Manager Alex Cora echoed the same sentiment, sharing that he told Porcello to keep the bat on his shoulder when the pitcher strode to the plate in the top of the fourth.
“One thing about Rick — and you guys know it — he’ll compete,” Cora said. “Even in the second at-bat, I told him to just take three pitches. And he couldn’t hold himself to take three pitches.”
Porcello struck out in that at-bat, but he went down swinging.
Porcello also put in six solid innings of work on the mound, allowing just two runs en route to picking up his 10th win of the year. But Porcello’s had performances like that hundreds of times in his career. That double off a multiple Cy Young winner is one moment that he’ll never forget.
As Cora put it, “That’s baseball right there.”