The shutdown inning was elusive. Again.
Rick Porcello?s biggest bugaboo — and a huge issue for the rotation collectively this season — has been the inability to post a zero immediately after the Boston Red Sox score. The deadly flaw reared its ugly head again Wednesday, as Porcello gave away momentum on two separate occasions in a 5-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.
“Every time we scored, they found a way to bunch a couple of hits together, and seemingly when Rick mislocated, it found the center of the plate,? Red Sox manager John Farrell said. ? ? Anytime we mounted a little bit of an offensive threat, they answered right back.?
In Porcello?s defense, the Red Sox?s offense didn?t give him much to work with. One night after providing zero run support for rookie Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston?s bats produced just two runs on seven hits. Tommy Hunter and Darren O?Day combined to retire the Red Sox?s final 12 hitters after five solid innings from starter Wei-Yin Chen.
But one couldn?t help but be alarmed by Porcello?s inability to rise to the occasion. While the right-hander has played the role of stopper a few times this season — an indication he?s capable of taking the next step with Boston — he also has had a tendency to fold in big spots. Perhaps it?s mental or perhaps it boils down to nothing more than a lack of execution. Either way, it?s been detrimental.
“I honestly think I need to stop making so much of a big deal about it and just go out there and pitch like I’ve been pitching,” Porcello said of the counterproductive trend. “Every time we scored a run or whatnot, if you start pressing to go out there and put up a zero, it starts working against you.”
Porcello started Wednesday?s outing — his 12th in a Red Sox uniform — with a bang, fanning Manny Machado, Jimmy Paredes and Adam Jones in order in the first inning. The second inning proved problematic, though, as the Orioles jumped out to a 2-0 lead behind three hits.
The first taste of Porcello?s all-too-common pitfall occurred in the third inning. The Red Sox cut the Orioles? lead in half in the top of the inning when Brock Holt doubled home Dustin Pedroia, but Porcello gave the run right back in the bottom of the frame. Machado led off with a double and scored two batters later when Adam Jones, who had a terrific night, singled into center field.
The Red Sox rode the backs of Pedroia and Holt in the sixth inning to pull to within one. An errant throw by second baseman Ryan Flaherty on a tailor-made double-play ball off the bat of Mike Napoli allowed Boston?s second run to cross the plate. Porcello again faltered in the ensuing half inning, though, as he surrendered three consecutive singles to Chris Davis, Delmon Young and Travis Snider, paving the way for two runs and his departure from the ballgame. Boston’s momentum vanished.
“It’s frustrating. Trust me,” Porcello said. ?I’m doing everything I can to go out and put up a zero and it just didn’t happen.?
The Red Sox had plenty of chances after that point to respond, but a three-run deficit looks like 10 runs with the way Boston?s offense has been producing this season. The Sox failed to muster up another hit.
One obviously could pin much of the blame for Wednesday?s loss on the offense, as two runs isn?t going to cut it most nights. But Porcello, who allowed five earned runs on 10 hits over 5 1/3 innings, clearly wasn?t his best one start after throwing eight innings of two-run ball in a hard-luck loss.
And his Achilles? heel was the same it?s been all season.
Thumbnail photo via Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports Images