Designated Hitter: Porcello shows Cole how to be an ace in season opener

BOSTON — Pittsburgh Pirates right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole is his team's best pitcher, and one of the bright young lights in the game of baseball. Monday afternoon, he got a pitching lesson on how to be his team's ace.

The teacher was Red Sox starter, and reigning Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello. Cole didn't need to watch Porcello to learn how to throw a cutter or a changeup, the Pittsburgh pitcher got to watch a master class in how to do his job properly.

A couple of times in Monday's season opener at Fenway Park, the Pirates could have knocked Porcello out of the game with a big inning. But the Sox ace did not allow the Pirates that big inning.

Cole, on the other hand, was rocked for five runs in the fifth, after four scoreless frames. Boston took the home opener 5-3.

"You understand coming into it that physically, you might feel as if you're in mid-season form, but mentally ... you just don't want to get ahead of yourself," Porcello said, meeting with reporters in the home clubhouse.

"That was my main thing in my head today," he said, "not letting innings turn into big innings, obviously, and getting done what I needed to."

Take the second inning. Gregory Polanco hit a leadoff single, but was quickly thrown out trying to steal second by Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon. Pittsburgh wasn't done, as David Freese reached on an infield single and Francisco Cervelli worked a walk on seven pitches. Porcello came back and got Josh Bell to fly out to Andrew Benintendi in left, and struck Josh Harrison out swinging to end the threat.

That was the huge difference between Porcello and Cole, who was one pitch away from a 1-2-3 fifth that would have kept the game scoreless.

Instead, Jackie Bradley Jr. tripled to right and scored on an infield single by Pablo Sandoval. Benintendi's three-run home run capped off the five-run fifth, and pretty much ended the day for the pitcher that Pittsburgh is hoping will be to the Pirates what Porcello has become to the Red Sox.

Porcello left the game after 6 1/3 innings. He allowed one run to score while Boston relievers let two more of Porcello's runners to score. That made it 5-3.

Porcello has now gone five or more innings in 42 consecutive starts, which is the longest active streak in the American League.

"That's my job," the right-hander said. "That's what I want to do every fifth day is give us a chance to win and that includes pitching deep into ball games. That's why I'm here."

In those 6 1/3 innings, Porcello threw 96 pitches, 62 of them for strikes. he did get charged with three earned runs on six hits. He walked only Cervelli in that second inning and struck out five.

"Both guys were throwing a heck of a game into the fifth inning," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Rick was matching [Cole] pitch for pitch and zeroes into the fifth inning.

"We were able to bunch a number of two-out base hits together. We were able to turn the lineup over."

If you expected Rick Porcello to go the distance on Opening Day, you shouldn't have. Going nine innings on April 3, when the temperature isn't much higher than 60 is a way to get your No. 1 pitcher hurt. After all, Porcello only had three complete games in 33 starts last year, when he went 22-4 with a 3.15 earned-run average.

If you are a Red Sox fan looking for a good omen, Porcello won his first game last year. He helped the Red Sox beat R.A. Dickey and Toronto 8-4 in Canada on April 9.

"We talked about his preparedness, his competitiveness," Farrell said of Porcello. "He was ready for today and was really strong through six.

"To me, he kept the game under control."

Which is what you expect from your ace.

Reach sports columnist Howard Herman at 413-496-6253 or @howardherman.


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