By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — For the first four innings of Monday ngiht’s game at Fenway Park, Rick Porcello was cruising. He allowed just two singles, while striking out six Indians batters, and with Boston jumping on Corey Kluber early for three runs in the first inning, Porcello appeared to be in line for his MLB-best 16th win of the season.
But then, Porcello was struck by the long ball.
First, he served up a solo shot to Melky Cabrera to lead off the top of the fifth. In the sixth, after Porcello was late to cover first base on what turned out to be an infield single for Francisco Lindor, he served up another homer, this time to Michael Brantley to tie the game at three-all. And then in the seventh, after taking a Yan Gomes line drive to the torso, Porcello stayed in the game but served up a third homer. This one was launched by No. 9 hitter Greg Allen, who entered the night with two career home runs in 216 at-bats.
Instead of picking up the victory, Porcello ended up getting tagged with the loss. And afterwards in the losing clubhouse, he shouldered all the blame — especially for the pitch he threw to Allen.
“Honestly, the pitches to Melky and Brantley, nine out of 10 guys I face don’t hit those balls out of the ballpark. So I’ve got to tip my hat,” Porcello told reporters. “The pitch to Allen, you know, I’m not trying to take anything away from him, but I think even I could’ve hit that one pretty hard. That was not a good pitch, and it came at the worst possible time.”
The pitch to Allen split the plate in half and sat around belt-high. Porcello immediately reacted by going into a crouch on the mound, knowing he had made a bad pitch at a bad moment. But the right-hander, despite taking that line drive to the midsection, said there was no physical excuse for serving up the long ball.
“I don’t think anything affected me leading up to that,” he said. “I just, you know, I need to make that pitch against Allen there in the seventh. I mean, we got a tie game, 3-3 against a good ball club. All the guys are playing hard. I gotta make a pitch, and I didn’t. And it sucks. I prepared a lot. I prepare to make every start, and when you allow one at-bat or one pitch to kind of define the night, it hurts. So, I’ll bounce back from that and move on. But that one definitely hurt.”
Porcello noted that the other pitches that led to Cleveland home runs — a fastball to Cabrera and a slider to Brantley — simply caught too much of the plate. But by the end of the night, Porcello had upped his total of home runs allowed on the year to 22, tying him for eighth-most in the American League. He won’t end up serving up 38 homers like he did last year, but the frequency of his home runs allowed has increased significantly of late. He allowed eight home runs in his first 16 starts of the season, but he’s allowed 14 home runs in his most recent 10 starts.
Porcello said the uptick is a result of missed location and falling into predictable patterns.
“I can’t tell you in particular why there’s more home runs being hit off me now than in the past. I think definitely part of it is missed location. That’s always the first thing you look at,” he said. “You give guys opportunities to put the barrel on the ball, usually you’re pitching in the middle of the zone. I think that’s the biggest factor, and you’ve gotta continue to make adjustments. There’s so many things that guys have now, as far as iPads in the dugout, scouting reports, percentages on pitches you’re throwing, what you like to throw — you gotta mix it more now than ever, because those guys are going up there with it loaded in their mind. They don’t have to remember from the last start, the way it was a couple years ago. Now it’s right there in front of them. So you gotta be precise, you’ve gotta continue to mix, continue to change angles, and I think that that might be part of it is falling into some patterns. But first and foremost, the pitches that get hit out of the ballpark are pitches that are hittable pitches, and I can do something about that. I can throw pitches that aren’t hittable pitches.”
On this night, of course, those hittable pitches proved costly. The Red Sox managed to plate a run in the ninth off closer Cody Allen, but Ian Kinsler flew out with two runners aboard to end the night for Boston.
Considering the loss only dropped the Red Sox down to being 50 games over .500, it won’t have any long-term effects in and of itself. But Porcello no doubt wanted to be better than that in this rare opportunity to pitch against a playoff-caliber team, as it does seem likely these teams just might find each other come October.