CLEVELAND — Rick Porcello was never better than he was this season, going deep into most every game he pitched and only occasionally giving up more than two or three runs.
When the Cy Young Award voting is announced next month, he’ll finish high on the list, perhaps even first.
But on Thursday night, in his biggest start of the season, Porcello couldn’t keep the ball in the park or get through the fifth inning.
The Cleveland Indians, aggressive in every aspect of the game, beat the Red Sox, 5-4, in a taut opener of the American League Division Series.
Porcello lost a 2-1 lead when the Indians hit three home runs in the third inning. He allowed five runs in all, matching his most of the season. The Sox came back, but were unable to push the tying run across.
“It’s tough when you go out there and give up five runs. That’s never how you want to start a playoff series off,” Porcello said.
Game 2 of the best-of-five series is Friday afternoon. The Red Sox will pitch David Price against Corey Kluber in a rematch from Opening Day.
Porcello, a pitcher who takes pride in careful preparation for every start, was ambushed in the third inning when Roberto Perez, Jason Kipnis, and Francisco Lindor hit solo homers and Cleveland built a 4-2 lead.
“You can spin it however you want to spin it. I threw the pitches I thought were going to be the best pitches to throw,” Porcello said. “They hit the ball out of the ballpark.”
Porcello is 0-3 with a 5.99 earned run average in nine postseason games, three of them starts and all of them losses for his team. Before Thursday, he had pitched at least into the sixth inning in all but one of his 33 starts this season.
The Red Sox also hit three home runs on a night when Progressive Field played small. But Porcello had to be better than he showed.
“Uncharacteristic for Rick to be up in the strike zone as much as he was,” Sox manager John Farrell said.
That the Sox ceded home-field advantage to the Indians with losses in five of their last six games in the regular season looks significant now, especially with Porcello having a 2.97 ERA at Fenway Park.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona charged after the victory. He called on his best reliever, Andrew Miller, with two outs in the fifth inning. Miller pitched two scoreless innings. Francona also used closer Cody Allen for five outs to finish the game.
Video: Lindor’s home run
In all, the Indians got 4⅓ innings of one-run relief from their bullpen.
“Nobody ever said you had to be conventional to win,” Francona said.
Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr., the three young Red Sox All-Stars, were 0 for 11 with seven strikeouts.
“You’ve got to try to come up big for your team. It just didn’t happen today. It feels bad, but tomorrow is a new game,” Bogaerts said.
The Sox struck out 14 times in all, the Indians carving them up with breaking pitches.
“They expanded the strike zone and we offered,” Farrell said.
The Indians were similarly aggressive on the bases. They took a 5-3 lead in the fifth inning when their catcher, Perez, stole 90 feet.
Perez started the inning with a single off Porcello and advanced to second when rookie Andrew Benintendi was slow to react after catching a fly ball in deep left.
“Good baseball play by him. I just hesitated,” Benintendi said.
Farrell said Benintendi should have stepped back and come through the ball with a quicker throw to the base.
Farrell, like Francona, went to a tall lefthander to replace his starter. Drew Pomeranz came in and allowed a single to center by Jason Kipnis. Perez never slowed down and scored from second.
“That’s the things we have to do to win,” Francona said.
The Sox took an early 2-1 lead. Dustin Pedroia started the game with a double off Indians starter Trevor Bauer and went to third when Brock Holt singled.
Betts, up 2 and 0 in the count, struck out swinging. David Ortiz then fouled out. Hanley Ramirez jumped on the first pitch he saw and lined a double to center field.
Pedroia scored and Holt was initially called safe on a close play at the plate. The Indians asked for a review and Holt was called out.
Benintendi homered in the third inning, a shot to right field. The 22-year-old is the youngest player to homer for the Red Sox in the playoffs.
After Porcello allowed the three home runs, Sandy Leon homered in the fifth inning to bring the Sox to within a run at 4-3.
Miller came in with two outs and allowed a double by Holt before walking Betts. But he struck out Ortiz to end the inning.
“He’s very filthy and you just pray to God for him to make a mistake,” Ortiz said.
Holt (3 for 4) homered off Bryan Shaw to get the Sox within a run in the eighth inning.
The Indians went to Cody Allen with one out. Ortiz doubled to right field. He just beat the throw and was replaced at second base by pinch-runner Marco Hernandez.
With Hanley Ramirez up, Hernandez failed to advance when a pitch bounced away. Farrell thought that was a missed opportunity.
“It was a tough play,” Hernandez said. “I had to be sure.”
Ramirez grounded out and then Bogaerts stuck out with Hernandez at third.
Allen worked around a two-out single by Benintendi in the ninth inning by striking out Pedroia.
“Hey, listen, this is not over yet,” Ortiz said. “We’ve got plenty of games to play. I’m going to bring my best tomorrow. That’s how I am. And I’m pretty sure my teammates will, too.”