Rick Porcello certainly did not inspire confidence that the Red Sox would snap a three-game losing streak after the first inning.
Porcello retired two batters to start the game, but then the Rangers began to connect. Three fastballs later, and Texas held a 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the first.
That was all the Rangers could muster against Porcello, though. When he returned to the mound in the second, it was almost as if he became a different pitcher.
Through the next 5⅔ innings that Porcello pitched, he didn’t give up another run. His efforts helped the Red Sox maintain their lead that eventually led to a 4-3 walk walkoff victory Wednesday in a game pushed up to the early evening to avoid a time clash with Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“I think the first inning has always been one of those things for me,” Porcello said. “I think it’s one of those things for starting pitchers in general. You go out there, and you have a plan to establish certain things. If they are ready for it, you find out pretty early.”
If looking to succeed when facing Porcello, opposing teams are wise to do so the first time through the lineup. That’s when the righthanded pitcher is most vulnerable. Coming into the game, Porcello’s opponents had a .303 batting average against him the first time through the order. That decreases to .233 the second time through.
“The key is being able to adjust and take control back,” Porcello said.
Against the Rangers, that meant moving away somewhat from the fastball.
“They were all ready for the heater,” Porcello said.
But they weren’t ready for the Red Sox’ adjustments. At least Texas batters didn’t respond well to them. Porcello retired 15 consecutive batters, starting with the final out of the first inning until he gave up a double to Elvis Andrus in the top of the sixth. Porcello left the game with two outs in the top of the seventh after allowing only his second hit since the first inning. He finished his day with six strikeouts, his third most this season.
“Tonight, he made some good pitches,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “He stayed using his fastball in and out and had great tempo. He did a great job with [catcher Christian Vazquez].”
After Wednesday’s game, the Red Sox have won eight of Porcello’s 11 starts. He has proved to be a reliable starter, too, having made it through at least six innings in nine of his past 10 starts.
“That’s the thing – just put quality starts,” Cora said. “That’s the most important thing. And then give the offense a chance to score runs.”
Scoring runs continues to be a work in progress for Boston, but Wednesday’s game was a step in the right direction, even if it took a walk walk-off from Mookie Betts to pick up the first victory since beating the Rays in the second game of a doubleheader this past Saturday.
Porcello can’t control the Red Sox bats, but what he can control — his pitching — proved mostly to be what the Red Sox needed Wednesday. The same can be said for his overall body of work this season. He has often been who they need him to be.
They just might have to deal with a shaky first inning every so often.