CLEVELAND — Surrounded by his infielders, Rick Porcello stared at the ground in disbelief.
In a dizzying span of nine pitches, the Cleveland Indians had rocked him for three home runs in the third inning.
Boston’s ace never quite recovered.
The Red Sox didn’t either.
Francisco Lindor’s homer capped Cleveland’s three-homer rampage off the 22-game winner, and the Indians held on for a 5-4 win on Thursday night in their AL Division Series opener.
Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Robert Perez went deep in the third off Porcello, who lasted 4 1/3 innings in his shortest outing this year as the Indians landed the first shot in the best-of-5 series against David Ortiz and the AL East champions.
“That’s never how you want to start off a playoff series,” Porcello said. “It is what it is.”
Boston had chances, but stranded the tying run at third in the eighth when Cleveland closer Cody Allen struck out Xander Bogaerts to end the inning. The Red Sox put a runner on with two outs in the ninth, but Allen fanned Dustin Pedroia on a full-count checked-swing , his 40th pitch, for the save.
Pedroia was livid at first base umpire Phil Cuzzi’s call, and Red Sox manager John Farrell went onto the field to question plate umpire Brian Knight.
Pedroia fired his helmet in disgust as he went to the dugout but later said he overreacted.
“I went, but I just was frustrated with the situation,” said Pedroia, who went 1 for 5 and struck out three times. “I’ll apologize to Phil tomorrow for giving him a piece of my mind.”
Indians manager Terry Francona, who won two World Series with Boston, went to his bullpen early. Andrew Miller, acquired by Cleveland in a July trade for an October night like this, pitched two scoreless innings for the win. Summoned by Francona in the fifth, the lefty struck out Ortiz with two on to end the fifth and threw a season-high 40 pitches.
Ortiz went 1 for 4 with a double in the first game of his final postseason.
Boston turns to David Price in Game 2 in the shadows Friday afternoon against Cleveland ace Corey Kluber. Price is 0-7 in postseason starts and unless he comes up big, Big Papi could be closer to saying his last goodbye.
Cleveland’s barrage off Porcello in the third was breathtaking.
Perez started the salvo with just his second homer in 82 at-bats at home this season. One out later, Kipnis drove a pitch over the wall in right-center, giving Cleveland a 3-2 lead and sending the raucous crowd of 37,763 into delirium. Kipnis had just finished getting a celebratory ride through the dugout when Lindor’s shot to right barely cleared a leaping attempt by Mookie Betts.
Porcello was clearly rocked by the barrage, and as Progressive Field shook, he was visited by Pedroia and others who tried to rally their ace.
“On those three home runs, you can spin it any way you’d like to,” Porcello said. “But the bottom line is this: I threw the pitches that I thought would be the best pitches, and I couldn’t keep them in the ballpark.”
Farrell attributed Porcello’s outing to one of those nights.
“It was a combination of pitches up in the strike zone and a night where this ballpark played extremely small,” Farrell said. “Warm weather, the ball was carrying a lot. Uncharacteristic for Rick to be up in the strike zone as much as he was. We were probably about the sixth or seventh inning where there were two outs made on the ground. We were up in the strike zone and they made us pay for it.”
ODD SOX: The teams combined for an ALDS record-tying six home runs. … Porcello allowed three homers in an inning for the initial time in the big leagues. He made his first postseason start since 2011, falling to 0-3 with a 5.66 ERA in nine career appearances. . Benintendi became the youngest Boston player to hit a home run in his playoff debut at 22 years, 92 days.
Red Sox: All-Star knuckleballer Steven Wright, bothered by bursitis in his right shoulder for weeks, will pitch Saturday at Fenway Park. If all goes well, he will head to the Instructional League and could be added Boston’s roster if the Red Sox advance.
Price is 0-7 in the postseason as a starter, a mark that has tarnished the five-time All-Star’s splendid career. Kluber will be pitching on 10 days’ rest. He strained a quadriceps last month and the Indians skipped his last start to give him extra time.
They faced each other in 34-degree weather on April 5. Price struck out 10. Kluber allowed four runs, including a two-run homer to Betts, as the Red Sox won 6-2.