WASHINGTON -- Facing one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues in Max Scherzer, the Red Sox needed a big night from Rick Porcello on Monday at Nationals Park. They just never expected it would come from his bat. How could anyone expect that?
It was Porcello's pop, of all things -- and also some strong pitching -- that gave the Red Sox the jolt they needed in a 4-3 victory over the Nationals in the opener of a three-game series.
Boston got the early momentum it needed in the top of the second after Scherzer unsurprisingly issued an intentional walk to No. 8 hitter Jackie Bradley Jr. to load the bases with two outs.
Porcello than surprised pretty much everyone at Nationals Park when he got enough of an 0-2 Scherzer heater (96.2 mph) to get it into the gap in left-center for a three-run double to snap a scoreless tie. The big hit by Porcello came at the expense of one of his best friends in baseball in Scherzer, his teammate with the Tigers from 2010-14.
"I think everybody was just shocked," said Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts. "Excited for sure, but I think when he first hit it, everybody didn't really know what went on, but it was just pure excitement at that point."
With that one swing, Porcello collected more RBIs than he had in his entire career. A career American Leaguer, Porcello entered the night 5-for-32 with no extra-base hits and two RBIs.
"I wish I had a lot to say, but I don't really know what happened," said Porcello. "Obviously I know he's got a big fastball and I got lucky. He got to the top of his windup and I told myself to start swinging and I hit it. We hit once a year. I'm not trying to get too in depth. If anything, I'm trying to keep it simple and get the head out."
Scherzer started Porcello with a couple of sliders and then tried to blow a fastball by him.
"Gave him a couple sliders to keep him off balance and then was trying to get a fastball up and away and it ran back middle-in," said Scherzer. "Anybody can hit middle-in. He can do that. I've seen him do it. That's where you've got to be better, no matter what. You've got to execute pitches against everybody."
After they pitched against each other for the first time, Porcello and Scherzer went out after the game. Porcello earned bragging rights this time.
"It was definitely a little weird being on the other side. I haven't seen him pitch. One exhibition game, but that was it," Porcello said. "You just try and stay in the game and focus in on what you've got to focus on. Obviously we have a lot of memories. It was fun to compete against him and I'm looking forward to going and seeing him after."
Porcello (10-3, 3.57 ERA) didn't do so bad from the mound, either, scattering seven hits and two runs while striking out five over six innings. Scherzer (six innings, four hits, three runs, nine K's) might have won the duel if not for the big knock he gave up to his former teammate.
Craig Kimbrel got Joe Kelly out of a jam in the eighth and picked up his second four-out save in the last week, allowing the 57-29 Red Sox to move back into sole possession of first place in the AL East by a game over the Yankees, who lost to the Braves, 5-3.
After enduring an 11-1 beating at the hands of Yankees ace Luis Severino on Sunday night, Boston had the unenviable task of going up against Scherzer a day later.
But thanks to the two-way performance by Porcello and a long solo shot by Betts, the Red Sox stood up to the challenge.
"That's what we do," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "We turn the page and move on. We've got a series right in front of us and we put ourselves in a position to win the series and hopefully we can do it tomorrow."
Before attacking Tuesday's mission, the Red Sox thoroughly enjoyed what occurred Monday. Due to his fierce competitiveness and selfless nature, Porcello is one of the most popular players within the confines of Boston's clubhouse.
"That's just his personality, no matter what it is," said Betts. "He's going to compete playing cards, playing ping pong, whatever it is, he's going to compete. So he's a professional and he's going to go out there and do what he can, and he went out there and showed zero fear and went out there swinging."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Kimbrel escapes scare: When the Red Sox went to Kimbrel, the righty hadn't pitched since Thursday, and perhaps that's why he didn't have his usual command. It took Kimbrel 33 pitches to get four outs. There was a brief scare when fearless 19-year-old rookie Juan Soto worked an eight-pitch at-bat to walk with two outs in the ninth. That brought up Anthony Rendon, with Bryce Harper, who hit a mammoth homer an inning earlier, looming in the on-deck circle. Kimbrel fell behind to Rendon, but the slugger offered at a 3-0 pitch, which he lined out to left to end the game. It was Kimbrel's 25th save.
"Anthony Rendon is a good hitter and he got a good pitch to hit and he just missed it," said Cora.
Porcello joined Scherzer, Jonathan Lester and Zack Greinke as the four pitchers in MLB who have at least 10 wins in as many as nine of the last 10 seasons.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
When Wilmer Difo smacked a single to right in the bottom of the second, Daniel Murphy figured he would test the strong arm of Betts by going first to third. That turned out to be not such a great idea. Betts came up firing and nailed Murphy with a perfect one-hopper. Third baseman Rafael Devers was actually waiting for Murphy when he corralled the throw and recorded the putout.
• Betts shows off power arm, power bat
HE SAID IT
"I almost missed first base. I kept running and all of a sudden [first-base coach Tom Goodwin] was behind me, so that wasn't good. I got on second base and it set in that we scored and scored three runs. This game was huge. It was just a cool moment. I was pretty excited." -- Porcello
Lefty Christopher Johnson, who is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in two spot starts this season, will try to get the job done again Tuesday night when he faces the Nats in Game 2 of this three-game series. Johnson, who hit 15 homers in his college career, is looking forward to getting a chance to swing the bat. The Nats counter with right-hander Tanner Roark, who is 3-9 with a 4.10 ERA. J.D. Martinez, who was out of the lineup Monday, will play the outfield in this one. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. ET.