His streak of five wins in his previous five starts saw him shut out the Twins over seven innings, continue the frustrations of the Indians and A's, then escape trouble against the Rockies and Royals. But the Red Sox have a way of working pitchers of all levels, let alone young ones.
"You can't coast through that lineup," Porcello said after Boston put up three runs over his 4 1/3 innings on their way to a 5-1 Tigers loss Tuesday night at Comerica Park. "They're going to make me work."
Porcello (6-4) was trying to become the first AL pitcher to win six straight starts at age 20 or younger since Wally Bunker in 1964. Not since his Major League debut at Toronto had a team managed more than six hits against him, but seven of the first 17 Red Sox batters had base hits. Just two of those hits went for extra bases, though, and two resulted in RBIs.
On another night when Detroit had its offense clicking, it might've been enough to get through with at least a no-decision, since Porcello fell two outs short of qualifying for a win. With Daisuke Matsuzaka thwarting Tigers chances repeatedly, however, the Red Sox right-hander didn't allow much room for miscues.
In this case, the miscue was a pitch similar to what befell Porcello in his other meetings with the AL East.
In Toronto, Porcello had a 2-2 game entering the sixth when he lost a breaking ball high and outside to Adam Lind, who hit it out to straightaway center to put the Blue Jays ahead for good. Porcello's six-run fourth inning against the Yankees on April 29 took off with an offspeed pitch that he lost up to Nick Swisher, who hit it out for a three-run homer.
Porcello's challenge Tuesday was to contain Jason Bay, Boston's stellar cleanup hitter whom the Tigers hadn't faced since he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2006. Porcello mixed four-seam fastballs and sinkers in his first at-bat, including a nasty sinker that sent him down swinging to end the first inning with one run allowed.
After starting off Bay with a first-pitch sinker for a strike his next time up, with a runner on in the third, Porcello went to something slower with more movement. His breaking ball began high, then dropped over the plate in time for Bay to drive out to left.
Porcello remembered the other pitches distinctly, specifically the one to Lind.
"That was a similar pitch tonight," Porcello said. "I kind of felt it come out of my hand. I didn't really get on top of it. He's obviously a pretty good hitter, and you have to tip your hat for him capitalizing on it. But at the same time, I could do a better job of keeping the ball down. Fastballs, breaking balls, leaving stuff up, they're too good pitches to hit for a team like that. [I] just have to be a little bit sharper, that's all."
They're the kind of struggles one would expect from a 20-year-old rookie. His winning streak just made it so easy to forget that he's still capable of them.
Not only had Porcello won his previous five outings, but he allowed one run or less in five of them. The exception was his previous start last Wednesday at Kansas City, and the Royals roughed him up for two runs over six innings.
Leyland's decision to take out Porcello with one out in the fifth was a combination of pitch count and pitcher choice. Boston had forced 84 pitches out of the young right-hander, two more than he threw at Kansas City and right around what he has averaged in his starts this season. And with Bay coming back up, Leyland countered with Ryan Perry, who retired the Sox slugger and Mike Lowell to get through it before loading the bases in a two-run sixth.
"He came out of it with five innings, 3-1," Leyland said. "That really wasn't the story. The story was that we let Daisuke off the hook. We had our shot; we just didn't do anything with it."
Like Porcello, Matsuzaka didn't retire the side in order in any inning, but he avoided getting hurt by it. Miguel Cabrera singled in Clete Thomas in the opening inning against Matsuzaka (1-3), but he stranded two more runners with a strikeout of Brandon Inge. Matsuzaka stranded another with a strikeout of Clete Thomas in the second inning.
Double plays ended the next two innings, including Curtis Granderson on Josh Anderson's fly out to right in the fourth, before Matsuzaka sent down the top third of Detroit's lineup in order after back-to-back walks brought the go-ahead run to the plate.
"We didn't hit very well tonight, period," Leyland said. "We had opportunities, three or four of them, and we got nothing out of them."
One more chance came in the ninth, when Jonathan Papelbon allowed three straight singles before striking out the side in order. Anderson battled Papelbon for 11 pitches, nine of them foul balls, before finally missing at a high fastball.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.