ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ben Cherington isn't one to say "I told you so." And besides, the former Boston Red Sox general manager wasn't here Friday night to make that claim.
But after Rick Porcello busted the Red Sox's four-game losing streak by tossing a 107-pitch complete game to beat the Los Angeles Angels 6-2 and became the third 14-game winner in the American League this season, there was a suite filled with team executives, to say nothing of a manager downstairs in the clubhouse, who were more than willing to be Cherington's proxy.
"We're seemingly in every game that Rick starts for us," manager John Farrell said. "It's reflective in his record. It's reflective in the record we have as a team when he's on the mound. He's been outstanding this year. He's been our stopper."
In other words, Porcello has been everything Cherington imagined when he traded for the right-hander and signed him to a four-year, $82.5 million contract extension before he threw a single pitch for the Red Sox last season. Cherington made Porcello the first $20 million-per-year pitcher in club history because he believed the now-27-year-old was about to enter his prime. It was a risk worth taking, Cherington said, based on Porcello's career trajectory with the Detroit Tigers.
Everyone knows what happened next. Porcello was a train wreck through the first four months of last season. He posted a 5.81 ERA in 20 starts and, even worse, went through an identity crisis, inexplicably abandoning the trademark sinker he'd always used so effectively to get groundouts in favor of trying to blow away hitters with a fastball that has never been overpowering.
It got so bad that the Red Sox placed Porcello on the disabled list last July 29 with a strained right triceps and shattered confidence. Two weeks later, Cherington stepped down when ownership stripped him of his decision-making power by hiring Dave Dombrowski to be president of baseball operations. The Porcello signing looked like one of the worst moves of Cherington's four-year tenure as general manager.
So, although it won't win Cherington his job back, Porcello's first complete game since Aug. 20, 2014, as a member of the Tigers must have given him a measure of long-distance satisfaction.
After giving up back-to-back hits to open Friday's second inning and putting the Red Sox in a 2-0 hole, Porcello was brilliant, retiring the final 11 Angels batters he faced and 17 of the last 18. When the Red Sox gave him a lead on Mookie Betts' fourth-inning sacrifice fly and added to it on homers by Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts, Porcello didn't let go. It marked the 14th time in 21 starts this season he has given up no more than three earned runs while completing at least six innings.
Porcello gave up five hits, didn't issue a walk, improved his record to 14-2 and lowered his ERA to 3.47. He has won his past six starts to pull into a three-way tie for the league lead in victories with Baltimore Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman and Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale, who has been linked to the Red Sox in the hours leading to Monday's trade deadline.
"He's been very consistent, probably the most dependable guy in our rotation when you go back to the first series of the season," Farrell said of Porcello. "It's not a fluke. It's the work, the preparation, the competitiveness that he shows on the mound."
Said Porcello: "It's what I've been trying to do and want to continue. I think getting ahead of hitters has been the biggest thing. Tonight, that was one of my better games of establishing strike one and going from there. Limiting baserunners and not giving up free passes is huge, and that's what I have to do to give us a chance."
Everything about Porcello is different this year, from his renewed reliance on his sinker to his body language on the mound. To be fair, it began late last season. In 29 starts since he returned from the disabled list and shut out the White Sox for seven innings last Aug. 26, he's 18-6 with a 3.37 ERA.
"Last year, probably right before the DL, was pretty much rock bottom for me," Porcello said. "I can't think about that anymore. We're in a good spot now and have to continue to play good baseball and get on a run here."
Said Bradley: "He's been solid for us all year. He's been very special for us. He's taken the ball and made quality pitches start after start. We needed him today, and he gave the bullpen a break as well. It was a huge start for him."
And perhaps some vindication for Cherington, even if he isn't around to take credit for it.