Perez, Kipnis, Lindor go yard off Boston's Porcello in third inning
By Jason Beck
CLEVELAND -- The Indians turned their first Division Series game since 2007 into a home run derby, combining with the Red Sox for six home runs -- three apiece -- to open their best-of-five battle Thursday night at Progressive Field and tie an American League Division Series record.
Three of those five home runs were hit in the third inning of the Indians' 5-4 victory off Rick Porcello, whose first postseason start since 2011 fell apart in a series of badly located pitches.
"It was a combination of pitches up in the strike zone and a night where this ballpark played extremely small," said Red Sox manager John Farrell, noting a 75-degree temperature at first pitch that felt more like early September than October baseball. "Warm weather, the ball was carrying a lot."
Porcello, who earned the Game 1 assignment for Boston following a 22-win regular season, gave up a double and RBI single in the first two innings but struck out four of Cleveland's first eight batters. He took the mound for the third inning with a 2-1 lead thanks to the first homer of the night, a second-inning solo shot by Red Sox rookie Andrew Benintendi in the Cincinnati native's first postseason at-bat.
Benintendi became the first Red Sox player to homer in his first career postseason plate appearance since Todd Walker in Game 1 of the 2003 ALDS. At 22 years, 92 days old, Benintendi became the youngest Red Sox player to homer in a postseason game. His drive to left, projected at 408 feet by Statcast™, broke the age mark previously held by Reggie Smith, who was 22 years, 188 days old when he homered in Game 3 of the 1967 World Series. As Farrell noted, Benintendi did not look his age.
"Not at all," Farrell said. "Put a beautiful swing on the pitch, which he gets in to give us the lead. ... Very poised, very much under control."
Once Porcello returned for the third, his fastball command seemingly had deserted him. He paid for it when his 3-2 pitch to Roberto Perez wandered up in the strike zone for Perez to send an opposite-field loft to right, projected at 381 feet by Statcast™.
"Didn't want to walk him," Porcello said. "Came after him with a fastball. He hit it out of the ballpark. It is what it is there."
After Carlos Santana grounded out into an infield shift, Jason Kipnis pounced on a 1-0 fastball and sent it deep to right-center for another solo shot, this one estimated by Statcast™ at 398 feet.
An already raucous Cleveland crowd was roaring, and Porcello was reeling, trying to throw something else to Francisco Lindor. After missing with a first-pitch curveball, Porcello went to his changeup, which Lindor drove to right.
"As soon as I hit it, I didn't think it had a chance," Lindor told MLB Network. "I saw Mookie [Betts] going back. ... As soon as it went out, I put my hands up and I was screaming, 'Thank you, Lord, thank you, Lord.' It was exciting."
Unlike the previous two homers, Lindor's drive wasn't barreled, with an exit velocity of 93.6 mph and a projected distance of 364 feet. Batted balls with those traits resulted in a .125 batting average this year, according to Statcast™. This one, however, found the right spot, barely clearing the right-field fence.
Francisco Lindor's HR was hit 93.6 MPH at a 32 degree launch angle... Only 6% of similar batted balls are HRs pic.twitter.com/hHM6aeJ7f3
"After the first one, it was exciting," Kipnis said. "After mine, it was even kind of getting nuts in [the dugout]. And the third one, our dugout was kind of losing it."
Among the feats in that third inning:
• It marked the first set of back-to-back homers this postseason after four pairs in last year's playoffs.
• It was the fifth three-homer game in Porcello's career and the third time this season.
• The Indians hadn't hit back-to-back homers or had a three-homer inning since Game 3 of the 1998 AL Championship Series, when Jim Thome and Mark Whiten went deep after Manny Ramirez homered two batters earlier.
• Kipnis and Lindor became the first middle-infield tandem to homer in the same postseason game in Indians history, and the ninth for any Major League team.
The Indians later padded their lead, but Boston chipped away with two more solo homers -- Sandy Leon in the fifth inning off starter Trevor Bauer, then Brock Holt leading off the eighth against Bryan Shaw. The latter was relatively short, just 352 feet, but lofted at a 41-degree angle and dropped over the right-field fence near the corner.
"It didn't seem like the control [of the game] was there until the last out," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It was certainly exciting to watch."
With that, Cleveland and Boston tied the ALDS single-game home run mark, the seventh time six homers have been clubbed in an ALDS game, most recently prior to Thursday accomplished by the Astros and Royals in Game 4 of their series last year at Minute Maid Park. The Cubs and Cardinals hold the overall Division Series record with eight, set during Game 3 of their NLDS last year at Wrigley Field.
The fact that all six were solo homers set a Division Series record and tied the postseason standard. The Mets and Cardinals combined for a half-dozen in Game 4 of the 2006 NL Championship Series, two of them from Carlos Beltran. The Red Sox and Rays matched that in Game 2 of the 2008 ALCS, including a pair by Dustin Pedroia.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.