Red Sox

Red Sox finish first in consecutive seasons for third time in their history

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Red Sox finish first in consecutive seasons for third time in their history

So what do John Farrell, Bill Carrigan and Jimmy Collins have in common?

The same thing Cy Young, Babe Ruth and Mookie Betts have in common.

They're all members of the only three Red Sox teams to ever -- as in ever -- finish first in two consecutive seasons.

It's true: In their 117-year history, the Red Sox have finished first in back-to-back seasons only three times -- 1903-04 (that was the team managed by Collins, with Young as the ace pitcher), 1915-16 (managed by Carrigan, with The Babe as a budding star) and, now, 2016-17. (No need to mention Farrell and Betts, since you're probably familiar with them.)

The 1903 Red Sox won the World Series -- the first Series ever played -- but didn't get a chance to defend their title: In 1904, the National League champion New York Giants refused to participate. The American League was only four years old at the time and there was no umbrella organization known as Major League Baseball. The A.L. champ would challenge the N.L. champ at the end of each season, and '03 was the first time the N.L. champ -- the Pittsburgh Pirates -- picked up the gauntlet. After the Sox beat Pittsburgh, the Giants said no thanks the following season. (From 1905 forward, however, there was a World Series every year . . . except for 1994, when it was canceled by a strike.)

In 1915 and '16 the Sox also won back-to-back World Series for the only time in their history, beating the Phillies in '15 and the Brooklyn Dodgers in '16.

They won't get the chance to do that this year because, obviously, they didn't win the World Series in 2016. But this season's already notable: After all, it's been more than 100 years since they've finished first for two straight years.

However: 

Thanks to the expanded postseason field, they've made the playoffs in consecutive seasons three other times: 1998-99, 2003-05 and 2007-09. The only division title in that span was in 2007; every other year, they were the A.L. wild card.

Most under-appreciated Red Sox of 2018? Rick Porcello

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Most under-appreciated Red Sox of 2018? Rick Porcello

PHILADELPHIA — Red Sox manager Alex Cora threw Brian Johnson’s name into the Red Sox MVP conversation before Tuesday’s game. From the sound of it, Cora was speaking more to the condition of being under-appreciated by the masses, of being a subtly important contributor.

Such discussion is a rabbit hole that leads to Average Al Horford hand-wringing and circular arguments about the need for the little things, as they say.

Here's fuel for the fire. On a night when Rick Porcello said that Sandy Leon is “the best catcher I’ve ever thrown to” — Leon not only homered, but ended the game with a fantastic play to finish a strikeout on a ball that got away — and on a night when Brock Holt also hit the Red Sox’ first pinch-hit home run of the season, here's another nominee for most under-appreciated member of the 2018 Red Sox. Porcello himself, the former Cy Young winner.

The most news Porcello has made in 2018 is for his double off Max Scherzer. Right?

He was at it again Tuesday night in a 2-1 Sox win over the Phillies. Hitting. He doubled again, finishing with a flop of a dive into second base in the third inning off starter Nick Pivetta. Everyone had a hoot.

“It was bad," Cora said. "It was really bad."

But Porcello is not making news outside of his slugging because he just doesn’t stand out like his rotation peers. 

Chris Sale is a monster. David Price is pitching well and never far from the spotlight. Nathan Eovaldi is the new guy with a perky cutter. Porcello’s just getting the job done, against every team that’s not the Blue Jays.

Except that description doesn’t aptly serve the strength of his season. With 10 strikeouts on Tuesday in seven innings, Porcello recorded his fifth career double-digit strikeout performance and his first since 2015. (Not 2016, his Cy Young season, but 2015.)

“Just pitched a lot better,” Porcello said, referring to his seven runs in four innings against the Jays in his previous outing. “You saw both games. I was throwing pitches right down the middle and walking guys in Toronto. Today for the most part I was able to stay out of the middle of the plate, not give up any free passes.”

He’s doing more than that, though. More than ever has in his career, Porcello is striking batters out — the currency for pitchers — now at a rate of 8.9 per nine innings. That’s better than the Phillies’ Aaron Nola (8.71), than Corey Kluber (8.57) and Jon Lester (7.03). It’s very close to David Price (8.98), Cole Hamels (9.11) and Zack Greinke (9.12).

Among 43 pitchers with 130 innings on the season as a starter, Porcello’s strikeout rate ranks 19th. His rebound from last year was expected, but not a given. 

This is the second straight season Porcello has improved his K rate, jumping from 7.6 per nine just two years ago. His walk rate is where it was last year, but he’s allowing fewer hits all-around, home runs included.

At 151 2/3 innings and a 4.04 ERA, Porcello has been a picture of middle-of-the-rotation steadiness. Even when he's not doubling.

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Holt's pinch-hit homer lifts Red Sox over Phillies, 2-1

Holt's pinch-hit homer lifts Red Sox over Phillies, 2-1

PHILADELPHIA -- Brock Holt took advantage of a rare opportunity.

Holt belted a pinch-hit tiebreaking homer, Rick Porcello threw seven impressive innings and the major league-leading Boston Red Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies 2-1 Tuesday night.

Sandy Leon also went deep for Boston, which improved to 86-35. The Red Sox increased their total to 168 homers, matching their number from last year when they hit an AL-low 168.

Porcello (15-5) gave up one run and two hits, striking out 10. He tied Max Scherzer and Luis Severino for most wins in the majors.

Rhys Hoskins homered, but the Phillies wasted a solid outing from Nick Pivetta. He allowed one run and three hits in six innings.

Holt hit the first pitch he saw from Tommy Hunter (3-2) in the eighth off the video screen on the facing of the second deck in right field.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Holt wouldn't have been used in that spot in an American League ballpark because he wouldn't have removed Porcello after only 90 pitches.

"We don't have a lot of opportunities to pinch-hit in the AL so I was in the cage, taking flips, staying loose, trying to stay more ready than normal," Holt said. "Just wanted to be ready for a good pitch to hit. Pinch-hitting is a tough job."

Heath Hembree tossed a perfect eighth, striking out Odubel Herrera swinging at a pitch that hit his left foot. Craig Kimbrel finished the two-hitter for his 36th save in 40 chances. He's 41 for 41 in interleague games in his career.

Leon gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead in the third. The least dangerous hitter in Boston's lineup sent a 95 mph fastball into the seats in right-center for his fifth homer.

Porcello followed with a liner over right fielder Nick Williams' head and slid headfirst into second base for his second career extra-base hit.

"I got lucky," Porcello said.

Cora was afraid Porcello might get hurt when he saw him start to dive.

"That slide was horrible," Cora said. "He was ready to hit. He's a good athlete, he competes."

Porcello retired his first 12 batters before Hoskins drove his 23rd homer out to left in the fifth.

The Phillies have lost five of seven to fall into second place in the NL East behind Atlanta.

"I don't see us pressing," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I see us competing and staying in the game to the end. We lost to one of the best teams in baseball."

CATCHER APPRECIATION

Porcello on Leon: "No disrespect to any catcher I've ever thrown to, but he's the best. He's the heartbeat of the pitching staff. He always knows what to throw. We rely on him. He's as good a game-caller as there is."

NL DOMINANCE

The Red Sox have won 20 of their last 23 interleague games.

ROSTER MOVES

The Phillies traded righty Jake Thompson to the Milwaukee Brewers for cash. Thompson was acquired in the trade that sent former ace Cole Hamels to Texas in 2015. He was 7-8 with a 4.87 ERA in 30 appearances, including 18 starts, in three seasons in Philadelphia. ... Former Phillies closer Hector Neris was recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley and infielder J.P. Crawford was sent down.

LINEUP SHUFFLE

Kapler moved Williams up to No. 2 and Asdrubal Cabrera to No. 3. Hoskins went from second to cleanup and Carlos Santana dropped from No. 4 to fifth in the order.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox:Blake Swihart was activated from the disabled list and C Dan Butler was designated for assignment. ... 2B Ian Kinsler could return Wednesday from a strained left hamstring.

Phillies: C Wilson Ramos was 4 for 9 with three doubles in three rehab games for Single-A Clearwater and could join the lineup Wednesday. The two-time All-Star catcher hasn't played since being acquired from Tampa Bay on July 31 because of a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

RHP Nathan Eovaldi (5-4, 3.74 ERA) makes his fourth start for the Red Sox since arriving in a trade from Tampa Bay while RHP Vince Velasquez (8-9, 3.98 ERA) goes for the Phillies on Wednesday night.

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