BALTIMORE — Orioles manager Buck Showalter knew his team was in deep trouble against Red Sox starter Rick Porcello before the second inning was over on Monday night.
The righthander was throwing two types of fastballs, a slider and curveball for strikes. Every pitch was with precision and purpose.
“Hitters at this level try to box out a pitch that you can’t throw over and you can’t get where you want to get it,” Showalter said. “It cuts down what you’ve got to be ready for. We didn’t get to a point where we could box a pitch out.”
With everything available, Porcello was ruthlessly efficient for nine innings as the Sox opened a crucial series with a 5-2 victory.
Porcello needed only 89 pitches for a complete game, 65 of them strikes. He allowed four hits and struck out seven without a walk.
“That was a fun game to catch,” Sandy Leon said. “Everything he wanted to do, he did.”
The Sox now lead the Orioles by four games in the American League East with 12 games to play. They have won five straight and 10 of their last 13.
With three games left in the series, they can almost put the Orioles away.
“We’re going to try,” said David Ortiz, who belted a two-run homer.
Mookie Betts also had a two-run homer for the Sox. They trail Cleveland by a half-game for the second seed in the American League playoffs.
Porcello has become a top contender for the Cy Young Award. He is 21-4 with a 3.08 earned run average and miniscule 0.98 WHIP. Monday was the 11th consecutive start in which he has pitched at least seven innings and given up three earned runs or fewer.
The last Red Sox pitcher to do that was Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez in 2000. Porcello is the first Red Sox pitcher to win 21 games since Curt Schilling was 21-6 in 2004.
The Sox are 23-8 (.742) when Porcello starts and 63-56 (.529) when he does not.
“I don’t know what else I can say about him. He’s been dominant,” Betts said.
Porcello faced the Orioles last Wednesday at Fenway Park and allowed one run over eight innings in a 1-0 loss.
“Coming in we knew they were going to be aggressive. Saw them four days ago and that’s how they’ve been all year,” Porcello said. “We were trying to use that aggression to our advantage.”
Porcello threw first-pitch strikes to 22 of 32 batters and went to a three-ball count once. He was the first pitcher in baseball to throw a complete game with fewer than 92 pitches this season.
“This is an aggressive, fastball-hitting team and they’re a dangerous team. But he was able to locate early in the count, put the ball on the ground, get some quick outs,” Sox manager John Farrell said.
Porcello was perfect through 11 batters and to that point had thrown only 30 pitches.
His gem was tarnished when a sinker went awry and hit Manny Machado.
There was clearly no intent on the part of Porcello, who had a 2-0 lead and knew AL home run leader Mark Trumbo was on deck. Machado had to know that, too.
But the 24-year-old glared at Porcello and had a few things to say. Porcello answered back and umpire Tim Timmons made sure to stay between the two players as Machado walked slowly to first base.
Timmons then warned both teams.
“We were just walking to first base, talking — talking like human beings. Nothing much was said,” Machado said. “We all know, I know, he doesn’t want to hit me in that situation.”
Porcello seemed more bemused afterward.
“It’s September baseball obviously, emotions are running high,” he said. “Nobody wants to get hit by a pitch. I completely understand. I wouldn’t like if I were up there and got hit.
“At the same time, there’s actually no reason I would hit him right there especially with Mark Trumbo standing in deck. He’s hitting missiles all over the ball park off me.”
Sure enough, Trumbo followed with a drive to right field that landed at the base of the wall and ricocheted past Betts. Machado scored from first.
The Orioles did not score again until Adam Jones homered in the eighth inning. Porcello then retired the final four batters he faced.
Orioles starter Dylan Bundy allowed five runs on six hits over five innings.
The Sox took the lead in the third inning when Xander Bogaerts singled and Betts homered to left field with two outs. It was his 31st of the season.
Betts is 13 of 26 at Camden Yards with eight home runs and 15 RBIs in seven games. He also has walked six times.
Going back to at least 1913, Betts is the first Sox player with eight home runs in a visiting park since Jimmie Foxx had eight at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis in 1939.
In his 65 other road games, Betts has six home runs.
“I have no idea,” Betts said when pressed for an explanation. “I try and do it everywhere but it only works here.”
The Sox added three runs in the fifth inning.
Andrew Benintendi led off with a double to center and scored when Dustin Pedroia singled to left. Benintendi, playing with a brace on his sprained left knee, sprinted from second to the plate without any problem.
With one out, Ortiz got a changeup and sent it soaring over the out-of-town scoreboard in right field. It was the 35th home run of the season for Ortiz and No. 528 for his career. He has 118 RBIs.