BOSTON — This seemed like a sure thing for Boston Red Sox fans. Watch Rick Porcello carve up the Rays and see Chris Archer again hang his head in another walk of shame to the dugout.
On paper, the Red Sox had Friday’s game all the way.
Porcello, the reigning Cy Young Award winner, was 5-0 against the Rays last year and was working on a streak of 15 consecutive quality starts.
Archer had lost 11 straight decisions to Boston.
Plus, the Rays were swept in three games in Yankee Stadium before coming to Boston.
But on the field Friday night, it was Porcello who took an early exit, with one out in the fifth inning. It was his shortest outing since July 2015 as he gave up four homers and eight runs in a 10-5 loss.
When Archer left in the sixth inning, his chin was up and he was greeted in the dugout with enthusiastic high-fives.
The Red Sox can’t get traction in this early part of the season. They won their first two games, lost their next two, and have since gone win-lose-repeat. They are 5-5.
You can blame some of the losses on the flu. But Boston is now mostly healthy. (Still, the Rays were taking no chances with lingering germs at Fenway; they brought their own air filtration units into the visiting clubhouse).
But the Red Sox had Porcello on the mound. He’s not always overwhelming, but he’s consistent.
At least he was until Friday night.
Porcello’s success hinges on pinpoint location. But in the second inning, with two outs and a runner on, Porcello faced Shane Peterson, who was just called up from Triple-A. Peterson turned on an inside fastball on a 2-2 count, launching it into the right-field seats.
Porcello’s location was worse in the third inning. He loaded the bases on a bloop single and two walks, then fell behind 2-0 to Logan Morrison. Porcello opted for a change-up, but it stayed up, right down the middle. Morrison did not miss it.
Just like that, it was 6-0.
These are the Rays, a team that ranks 28th among 30 major-league teams in payroll ($71 million). Boston ranks fifth ($179 million). Tampa Bay had a nice run under Joe Maddon, but in the past three years, the Rays have finished either fourth or fifth in the American League East.
Could they be bouncing back? The Rays lead the division in runs scored (50) and starters’ ERA (3.37). Archer seems more than ready to rebound from a 9-19 season.
The concern about Porcello is that Red Sox fans have seen the good (2016) and bad (2015). What are they going to get in 2017?
It’s obviously way too early to make conclusions, with 152 games to go.
There were some positive signs Friday, including Mookie Betts looking his old self with a 4-for-5 night.
Xander Bogaerts was 3 for 4 with a walk, and Andrew Benintendi looks comfortable in the No. 2 spot in the lineup, going 2 for 4 with a walk, a double and an RBI single.
Robby Scott pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to continue his underdog story. The left-hander who went from the independent leagues to the Portland Sea Dogs to the majors maintained a 0.00 ERA. In his 11 major league appearances, he has yet to allow an earned run.
And the Rays showed they are hardly a finished product. They entered the ninth inning ahead 10-2 but still needed closer Alex Colome to come in and record the final out.
There are three more games left in this series, and Boston has Chris Sale on the mound Saturday.
“He’s been outstanding,” Red Sox Manager John Farrell said of Sale, adding that “we’ve scored one run when he’s on the mound.”
Maybe the Boston bats will bust out with clutch hits Saturday. And with Sale pitching, it looks good for the Red Sox, at least on paper.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: