MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After an awfully sluggish start to their World Series title defense, the Boston Red Sox have begun to round into form.
Their latest stride came in the series opener at first-place Minnesota, with a dominant Rick Porcello on the mound.
Porcello pitched seven innings to outduel Twins ace Jose Berrios, and the Red Sox stretched their winning streak to a season-high six straight games with a 2-0 victory Monday night.
“That’s the best lineup in baseball, and he kept them off balance,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “Weak contact. He was in control.”
Porcello (5-6) allowed only four hits and one walk with eight strikeouts, just his third start out of 15 this season with seven or more innings completed. He threw eight scoreless innings to beat Oakland on April 30.
“We’re playing good baseball. We’ve got a lot of baseball to play, though,” Porcello said.
The Red Sox (40-34), who began the season 9-15, moved a season-high six games above .500 by handing the highest-scoring team in the major leagues just its second shutout of the year. The Twins (47-24) have their fifth two-game losing streak of the season. They’ve yet to lose three in a row.
“We have been playing so well this year, the offense, defense and pitching,” Berrios said. “Tomorrow, it’s another day, so we turn the page.”
Berrios (8-3) struck out 10 batters in a season-most eight innings, with five hits and no walks. An RBI single by J.D. Martinez in the first was the only run he allowed. Xander Bogaerts gave the Red Sox insurance with an RBI double in the ninth, extending the team’s streak with an extra-base hit to 88 straight games, but Ryan Brasier didn’t need it. He pitched a 1-2-3 inning for his seventh save in 10 tries, returning from a six-game absence for bereavement/family medical emergency leave.
Berrios (8-3) made quick work of the Red Sox after allowing three straight singles to start the game. Andrew Benintendi, who was scratched from the lineup the day before at Baltimore because of a sore left quadriceps muscle, tried to turn his drive off the right field wall into a double but was thrown out by Marwin Gonzalez. Martinez followed with his liner to left that gave the Red Sox the lead.
Berrios retired 19 straight batters until a two-out single by Bogaerts in the seventh, with four strikeouts in a row in one stretch. That included Jackie Bradley Jr. to finish the fifth, on a 77 mph curveball that froze the left-hander when it broke hard across the zone. Berrios also fanned reigning AL Most Valuable Player Mookie Betts looking to end his night and match his season-high strikeout total.
“We contributed a lot to his foundation back home in Puerto Rico,” Cora said of his fellow countryman. “His stuff is amazing. This kid, I’ve seen him for a while growing up, and seeing him doing the things he’s doing now, he’s been impressive.”
Porcello was, too, of course. He gave up a double to Nelson Cruz in the first inning, and C.J. Cron just missed a home run with his double that bounced beneath the flower beds off the tall wall in right-center in the seventh, but the Twins didn’t really threaten until the eighth against Colten Brewer. This was the first time in 15 games the major league home run leaders failed to go deep.
Brewer allowed the first two batters to reach base before a sacrifice bunt by AL batting leader Jorge Polanco put both runners in scoring position. Cruz followed with a dribbler in front of the mound, and Jonathan Schoop was thrown out after breaking for home and then retreating to try to escape a rundown.
Polanco made the decision on his own, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
“We trust our players to make decisions on the go,” Baldelli said.
Polanco, through a team interpreter, said he was trying for a hit but prioritizing advancing the runners.
“I trust all of our players, one through nine, and I know they can come up and do their job,” he said.
Red Sox: RHP Hector Velázquez (strained lower back) also rejoined the bullpen from his rehab assignment, having missed the last 10 games. RHPs Travis Lakins and Josh Smith were sent to Triple-A to make room for Brasier and Velázquez.
Twins: CF Byron Buxton was on the bench for the third straight game because of a bruised right wrist. He was hit by a pitch there on Friday night by Kansas City’s Brad Keller. Last season, Buxton was sidelined for more than a month in Triple-A because of a left wrist strain he suffered while swinging.
Red Sox: LHP David Price (4-2, 3.52 ERA) takes the mound for the middle game of the series, after allowing a season-high six runs while recording only four outs in his last start against Texas. He’s 10-4 with a 2.62 ERA in 18 career appearances against the Twins.
Twins: RHP Michael Pineda (4-3, 5.04 ERA) pitches on Tuesday night. After surrendering exactly three earned runs over six consecutive turns, Pineda gave up only one run on two hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings in his last start against Seattle.