When he walked off the mound in the top of the eighth inning, the crowd of 37,941 stood and roared at Fenway Park. And by the time he’d crossed the white lines on the way to the dugout, Jake Peavy had doffed his cap and acknowledged the adulation for a job well done in his debut with the Red Sox.
Yes, this was instant gratification for the Sox.
The Sox traded for Peavy, 32, late Tuesday night, and by Saturday night he was pitching seven-plus innings of two-run ball in defeating the Diamondbacks, a team that had fought to get him at the trade deadline, 5-2.
Peavy, who allowed four hits and two walks, stepped up for his new team, while showing the team that tried to obtain him what it missed. He made the Fenway crowd feel as though there were good things to come.
Peavy has received a lot of ovations in his career, but he said this one he will always remember.
“Truly, from the bottom of my heart, I’ll never forget it,’’ he said. “It was an ideal moment for me because I’d given up the hit to start the inning [Wil Nieves], but to be welcomed like I was and for the fans to show their appreciation . . . it was something special.”
Peavy beat a good Arizona team, although he was victimized in the fourth inning by righthanded-hitting slugger Paul Goldschmidt, who hit a solo shot to deep center, his 26th homer of the year.
Peavy trailed until Shane Victorino homered in the fifth inning to tie it and Jacoby Ellsbury singled in the seventh to give the Red Sox the lead for good.
This is what you want in debuts — a justification of the trade.
Peavy hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2006, a year before he won the National League Cy Young Award. But the competitive juices were definitely flowing Saturday night. Only the fifth and seventh innings were of the 1-2-3 variety. The “bulldog” competitor in him came out. He wasn’t about to give in.
This was the guy the Red Sox needed. This was the guy the Diamondbacks and Orioles needed. This was the guy that any team in a heated pennant race would need because in seven-plus innings he oozed experience, guts, and determination.
It was Peavy’s third start — and third win — against playoff-caliber teams since he missed six weeks with a broken rib, and this was the best of the three. He had allowed four runs (two earned) in six innings vs. Atlanta on July 20, and four earned runs in seven innings vs. Detroit on July 25.
If this was an indication of how he might pitch the rest of the way, the timing is good. Veteran Ryan Dempster has been on a bit of a downslide, as has Jon Lester. Meanwhile the recovery of Clay Buchholz from a neck/shoulder strain appears to be on the upswing. Buchholz may be back in the rotation by late August. Pitching coach Juan Nieves has often compared Peavy and Buchholz because of their multiple-pitch repertoires.
Peavy should be good for Buchholz and vice versa.
“Winning is what it’s about,” said Peavy, who sported an excellent two-seam fastball, changeup, and cutter. “It’s always fun to win. I don’t care if you’re winning at Ping-Pong in the clubhouse, I can’t tell you how excited I was.
“I had some nerves. I’ve had about 300 starts [Saturday’s was 296] and it felt like one of my first. When you’re in control and stick to a game plan this kind of thing can happen.
“My teammates have made me feel so welcome from the moment I showed up here. We had a game plan, we executed it. A true team effort.”
With any pitcher joining a new team there are always two obstacles — preparing for a game with a new pitching coach and new catcher.
Peavy worked with Nieves in Chicago for a few years, so that one was easy. Working with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia wasn’t that hard, either.
“It’s always something that’s a question mark any time with a new catcher, but our lockers aren’t that far apart in the clubhouse and for the past few days he’s been asking me questions and we had a good half-hour meeting,’’ Peavy said. “Salty has had some time in big leagues and for him to be so humble in his approach and not say, ‘This is the way we do things here,’ but rather ‘What do you need me to do?’ was outstanding.”
And the irony of pitching against his old boss in San Diego, Kevin Towers, who was watching him and who tried so hard to obtain him for the Diamondbacks?
“I know there were significant talks going on,” Peavy acknowledged. “I have some friends over there. My former agent is Barry Axelrod and he works with Kevin now, and [Diamondbacks manager] Kirk [Gibson] and I own a ranch together. So I was abreast of what was going on. I know the interest and talks were hot, but I’m very happy to be on this side.”
The Red Sox are, too.