PHILADELPHIA -- Rick Porcello grew up about 90 minutes from Philadelphia in northern New Jersey, but the friends and relatives who make up his cheering section were not on hand for Tuesday night's matchup between the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. When they take their seats at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday, as expected, he'll be kicking back in the dugout eating sunflower seeds or whatever it is that starting pitchers do to stay engaged on their recovery day.
During an interleague road game Tuesday, Porcello enjoyed a rare opportunity to pitch, swing the bat and channel his inner Zack Greinke. He put on quite a show.
Fresh off one of his worst starts of the season in Toronto, Porcello dazzled the Phillies with his command and five-pitch repertoire. He allowed two hits over seven innings, and the Red Sox rode solo homers from catcher Sandy Leon and pinch hitter Brock Holt to a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia.
It's hard to find superlatives to describe the havoc the Red Sox are wreaking these days. Since May 19, they've posted a 56-20 record to turn the American League East into a runaway. They only need to go 20-21 the rest of the way to break the franchise record of 105 wins set in Fenway Park's inaugural season in 1912.
When informed that the Red Sox are in the midst of a 30-6 run since early July, Holt was oblivious to the particulars.
"The guys in here don't pay attention to things like that," he said. "We come to the field expecting to win. We're a confident team and we've been able to do it more times than not. We've got a special group in here and everyone is pulling on the same rope. It's a lot of fun to be a part of."
The Red Sox are 11-1 this month, and the only loss belongs to Porcello, who was tagged for seven runs in his previous outing at Rogers Centre. He recovered fully from that sorry performance in this outing, allowing only two hits and fanning 10 for his fifth career double-digit strikeout performance.
Porcello exhausted his arsenal while throwing 23 four-seam fastballs, 23 two-seamers, 17 curveballs, 16 sliders and 11 changeups, and he was in sync with Leon from his first pitch through his 90th. Porcello's only mistake came in the fifth inning, when he hung a curveball that Rhys Hoskins deposited into the left-field seats for a solo homer.
As it turns out, Leon called for a slider, and Porcello shook him off and went with the deuce. It might be a while before he makes that mistake again.
"No disrespect to any other catcher I've thrown to, but he's the best catcher I've ever thrown to," Porcello said of Leon. "He's prepared for every pitcher, starting or bullpen. He's kind of the heartbeat of our pitching staff. We rely on him a lot, and he's always on point. He always knows what pitches to throw to give guys different looks. He's as good as it gets as a game-caller and a catcher."
Porcello, an exceptional all-around athlete growing up in Jersey, seemed invigorated by the opportunity to hit, run the bases and channel his inner Little Leaguer. He has only 37 career at-bats over 10 big-league seasons, but he looked awfully hitter-ish when he whacked a bases-clearing double against his buddy and former Detroit teammate Max Scherzer in a 4-3 Boston victory in early July.
After Leon gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead with a homer off Nick Pivetta in the third inning, Porcello lined a fastball to the opposite field and began digging for extra bases. He punctuated the hit with a head-first slide for a double.
A thing of beauty, it was not.
"The slide was horrible,'' said Boston manager Alex Cora. "It was bad. It was a dive, actually. When I saw him stopping and sort of jumping, I was like, 'Oh god.' But he's a good athlete. He competes."
Painful as it was, Porcello had to agree with that assessment.
"I saw the replay of it, and it didn't look very good," he said. "It was more of a crawl into second. I'm not going to dare to rate it. It was pretty bad."
Porcello was fortunate to make it through the slide intact. And if he's in position to slide again anytime soon, things might not play out much differently. Even though he gets the chance to hit rarely these days, he's a long way from an automatic out.
"I don't really worry about the getting hurt aspect of it," Porcello said. "It's a lot of fun if you're fortunate enough to get on base. I'm not saying you're not playing real baseball in the American League. But in these games, you're right in it. You can help your team win in ways other than pitching. That's different than what we're used to. I enjoy it and I definitely embrace it."
Depending on how Boston's rotation lines up, Porcello's next opportunity to swing the bat could come when the Red Sox travel to Atlanta for a three-game series in early September.
After that, it would have to happen during a road game in the World Series. In light of how the Red Sox are playing, would anyone dare bet against them getting there?