Arm & hammer: Porcello’s 3-run 2B lifts Red Sox

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WASHINGTON — Rick Porcello got the best of Max Scherzer — on the mound and at the plate.

Facing his former Detroit Tigers teammate for the first time in their careers, Porcello hit a bases-clearing, three-run double off Scherzer to lead the Boston Red Sox to a 4-3 victory over the Washington Nationals.

Porcello’s decisive blow came with two outs in the top of the second inning. After Nats manager Davey Martinez intentionally walked No. 8 hitter Jackie Bradley Jr. to load the bases, Scherzer got ahead of Porcello no balls and two strikes. The Red Sox starter, batting for the first time this season, then drilled a 96-mph fastball from Washington’s ace that sailed into the gap and over the head of left fielder Juan Soto, who’d been playing shallow against Boston’s hurler. Mitch Moreland, Brock Holt and Bradley all scored on the play to give the Red Sox a 3-0 lead.

The unlikely extra-base hit was the first for Porcello, who came into Monday’s series opener with a .156 lifetime average. It also marked the first time in more than nine years that the 29-year-old righty, who has played his entire career in the American League, drove in a run. Porcello’s only other RBI came on June 12, 2009, when he recorded a pair of run-scoring singles against the Pittsburgh Pirates in his MLB batting debut. As for Scherzer, it was just the third extra-base hit that he has ever allowed to an opposing pitcher in 284 plate appearances, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

“I know he can hit. We played together. I’ve seen him hit,” Scherzer said after Monday’s loss. “Give 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. 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. Just because it’s a pitcher doesn’t mean you can ever let up. Not saying I did, but the onus, the focus is on every single pitch. You’ve got to execute.”

Scherzer and Porcello spent five years together as members of the Tigers’ starting rotation, from 2010 through 2014, when Scherzer won his first Cy Young Award. Since leaving Detroit, the pair has combined to win three Cy Youngs, with Porcello winning the AL award in 2016, and Scherzer nabbing the NL hardware the past two seasons. Despite all the success, Scherzer has suffered through some tough luck lately.

Including Monday’s game against Boston, the Nats have now lost four of the past five games in which their 33-year-old ace has started. In those five games, he has allowed a total of 10 earned runs, but Washington’s struggling offense has managed to score only seven times. In three of those losses, the Nationals were shut out, part of a disappointing June in which they were blanked seven times en route to posting a 9-16 record.

Scherzer, who has lost four straight decisions and whose record now stands at 10-5, last picked up a win on June 5 against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Washington, which was expected to win its third straight NL East title, dropped to a game over .500 with the loss (42-41), and is currently in third place behind the Atlanta Braves. Meanwhile, Boston improved to 57-29 on the season as it battles the New York Yankees for the top spot in the AL East.

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