BOSTON -- Last offseason, the Red Sox made landing a certified No. 1 starter their top priority. They lavished David Price with a $217 million contract and proclaimed their rotation issues to be fixed.
But maybe they had their No. 1 starter on the staff all along.
While Price has underperformed -- with a bloated 4.34 ERA and the most hits allowed of any pitcher in the big leagues -- Rick Porcello has emerged as the Red Sox most reliable, losing-streak-stopping starter.
Maybe the 3.40 ERA doesn't shout "Ace!'' But Porcello has otherwise been everything you look for in a front-of-the-rotation force. After a terrific outing Tuesday in which he allowed two runs in eight innings in the Red Sox' 5-3 win over the Yankees, Porcello is now 15-3. More impressive, he's 7-1 in games following a Red Sox loss.
And really, isn't that the very measure of a No. 1 starter? Isn't that the quality you value above all others when it comes to a true ace?
Some numbers can be misleading -- pitcher's won-loss records, most notably -- but surely it suggest something that the Red Sox are 17-6 in Porcello's 23 starts. And that he -- and the team -- are undefeated at home when he pitches.
He doesn't have eye-popping strikeout numbers, averaging 7.5 per nine innings. But for a pitcher known for allowing contact, he's fashioned a superb 1.079 WHIP, evidence that he's keeping runners off base.
Only once in his 23 starts has he issued more than two walks. In 16 of them, he's walked one or none. When he lost last week in Seattle -- allowing only theee runs in his second straight complete game -- it marked his first loss since the middle of May.
Consistent. Dependable. Efficient.
What's more, Porcello seems to be getting better as the season progresses. Since June 28, about the halfway point in the schedule, he's 7-1 with a 2.53 ERA.
He's routinely going deeper into games, too. In his last three starts, he's pitched 25 of a possible 27 innings.
But no number better reflects Porcello's value than his 7-1 record in games following Red Sox defeats.
"It's huge for us to bounce back and not let a loss or two losses turn into three, four or five,'' said Porcello. "It's definitely big for our team and allows us to get good momentum going instead of kind of losing games and falling into those slumps.
"You're aware of the situation we're all in as a team (when we've lost the previous game), especially, getting into August and September coming up. We can't afford to drop too many games in a row. [The awareness] is definitley there. We know we have to play to win and the urgency is there. I don't try to let it affect me when I'm out there (on the mound) but it's definitely something that we all know.''
The postseason is still some six weeks away, and who knows how that plays out for the Red Sox. But it's perhaps not too early to begin the debate about whom the team would pick to start a winner-take-all wild card game.
From here, the choice wouldn't be Price, the No. 1, in name only, but rather Porcello, who's actually performed like one.