After taking two out of three from the Tampa Bay Rays over the weekend, the Red Sox welcomed the American League Central leading Cleveland Indians into town for a four-game series between two teams vying for an AL pennant.
In the series opener, it was a starting pitching matchup that featured two decorated right-handers in Corey Kluber, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, for Cleveland and Rick Porcello, who received the same honor in 2016, for Boston.
Porcello, coming off a fine effort in his last time out against the Phillies and making the 300th start of this career, took the mound for the 26th time this season, and he was struck hard by the home run ball.
Tossing seven full innings in this one, all five runs surrendered by the righty came on three separate Indians home runs, all of which came after the fourth.
Through the first four frames, Porcello was nearly untouchable, as he sat down 12 of the first 14 batters he faced while his team jumped out to an early three-run advantage.
The fifth inning though, is where things started to go awry for the New Jersey native and it began with a leadoff home run off the bat of veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera, who is in his second stint with the Indians this season.
After retiring the next three batters he faced, a Francisco Lindor single to begin the sixth would later turn into another pair of runs for Cleveland two pitches later when Michael Brantley, another outfielder, punished a 1-0 slider for his 14th homer of the season. And just like that, this game was momentarily tied.
Momentarily, because an inning later, with his pitch count inching closer and closer to 100, Porcello gave up another two-run shot, but not before taking a Yan Gomes comebacker that had an exit velocity of 95.2 MPH off his chest.
I’m not going to sit here and say that Porcello should have come out after that, because he was able to recover and get an out at second, but what transpired after he was left in was not all that encouraging.
Yes, that two-run home run off the bat of Indians rookie Greg Allen put Cleveland up 5-3, which is all they would need to pick up the win. Porcello did stay in to finish the seventh, which is how his night would come to an end.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 107 (74 strikes), the New Jersey native ended up with six strikeouts on the night to go along with one walk and a season-high three home runs given up in this one.
Out of those 107 pitches, Porcello turned to his fastball, two-seam and four-seam, a combined 49% of the time on Monday and topped out at 94 MPH with that four-seamer in the second inning.
In four starts this month, we have truly seen the highs and the lows of what is Rick Porcello.
8/3 vs. NYY: 9 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 HR, 0 BB, 9 K
8/9 @ TOR: 4 IP, 6 H, 7 ER, 2 HR, 0 BB, 5 K
8/14 @PHI: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 HR, 0 BB, 10 K
8/20 vs. CLE: 7 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 3 HR, 1 BB, 6 K
He’ll look to return to that same form he had against the Yankees and Phillies in his next time out, which should come against the Tampa Bay Rays sometime next weekend.
In relief of Porcello, the Red Sox bullpen was responsible for the eighth and ninth innings of last night’s contest, and Tyler Thornburg and Drew Pomeranz did their jobs by holding the Indians scoreless with two combined strikeouts in that span.
On the other side of things, matched up against one of the best pitchers in all of baseball in Cleveland’s Corey Kluber and all, the Red Sox lineup pounced early but did not have much to show for the remainder of the evening.
Entering Monday with a 3.96 ERA in four career at starts at Fenway Park, Kluber certainly had his fair share of struggles early, but like the ace he is, settled down eventually.
Starting the scoring right away in the first, three straight hits from Mitch Moreland, JD Martinez, and a two RBI double off the bat of Xander Bogaerts plated Boston’s first two runs.
An inning later, another round of three straight hits, this time from Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, and an Andrew Benintendi RBI single, his 71st of the season, tacked on another run to that Red Sox lead to make it a 3-0 game, but that is all they would end up with off of Kluber going into the seventh.
Fast forward to the ninth, trailing by two runs with Indians closer Cody Allen on the mound, a Mookie Betts leadoff double followed by a seven pitch walk of Andrew Benintendi put the Red Sox in a prime spot for a comeback win.
After Mitch Moreland grounded into a force out and JD Martinez popped out to first, it all came down to Xander Bogaerts, who scored Betts from third on an infield single to make it a one-run contest.
With the tying run at second and the go-ahead run at first, Ian Kinsler came to the plate with the opportunity to have his first big moment in a Red Sox uniform, but he could only drop his bat in disgust after flying out to left on the eighth pitch of a tough at bat for the final out of the night.
Some notes from this one:
The Red Sox have lost consecutive games for the first time since July 24-26. They have scored five runs in their last 26 innings.
In the month of August, Xander Bogaerts is slashing .326/.458/.543 with one home run and 12 RBI over 15 games played.
Looking to even things up later tonight, it will be Nathan Eovaldi getting the ball for Boston. He owns a career 2.70 ERA in 16.2 career innings pitched against the Indians.
Matched up against Eovaldi will be rookie hurler RHP Shane Bieber for Cleveland. Bieber, 23, as you may have guessed, has never faced the Red Sox in his short career, but does own a 4.37 ERA in 12 games started in his first big league season.
First pitch of the second game is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET Tuesday.