BALTIMORE — Kevin Millar was set to play in Japan in 2003. But Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein claimed him off waivers to block the deal, something that had never been tried before.
After weeks of squabbling, Major League Baseball helped negotiate a deal allowing Millar to play for the Sox.
Now Millar has a 2004 World Series ring and a tee time at any celebrity golf tournament of his choice.
The Sox were once expert at working the margins to obtain undervalued players who blossomed in Boston. Then after a while it just became easier to write checks.
One of the reasons Chaim Bloom was hired as chief baseball officer was to get the team back in the business of turning on lights in dark corners.
For that, Nick Pivetta is thankful.
The righthander pitched six solid innings on Sunday as the Sox beat the Baltimore Orioles, 4-3. Pivetta is now 5-0 with a 3.19 earned run average in seven starts.
His reliability is one of the reasons the 22-13 Sox have the best record in baseball and a 3½-game lead in the American League East.
Pivetta was pitching intrasquad games at Philadelphia’s Triple A ballpark eight months ago when the Sox picked him up in the trade that sent relievers Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman to the Phillies.
Connor Seabold, a former third-round pick, was the prize. Pivetta was a throw in, a pitcher who the Phillies didn’t have much use for — or he for them at that point.
Pivetta was 19-30 with a 5.25 earned run average in parts of four seasons with Philadelphia. But he was only 27 and threw with enough velocity and movement to be successful.
On the day of the trade, a Red Sox scout described Pivetta as “a classic change of scenery guy.”
It’s a platitude that applies to every team sport. Identify an underachieving player in a bad situation, pry him loose, and see what happens. It’s something the Patriots have done successfully for years.
Pivetta doesn’t fight the label. He likes the scenery in first place just fine.
“It seems that way,” Pivetta said. “I think it’s obvious that it seems that way. It seems that I needed something to get changed up. It seems like it worked the best. But there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Pivetta allowed two runs on only three hits on Sunday, but he needed 46 pitches to get through the first two innings. The Orioles fouled off 15 of those pitches, 11 with two strikes.
Pivetta said afterward that he was tipping his pitches and corrected that after the second inning, which is true to some extent. But the Orioles did foul off 15 of his remaining 57 pitches.
After a rocky first inning, Pivetta retired 15 of the final 18 batters he faced.
The Sox, much like the Tampa Bay Rays, encourage their pitchers to trust their pitches enough to throw strikes. Pivetta has become a believer — to a point.
He has averaged 5.2 walks per nine innings with the Sox, a big jump from 3.4 with the Phillies, although somewhat attributable to moving to the American League. His strikeouts per nine have fallen from 9.6 to 9.3.
The difference is Pivetta is allowing 3.1 fewer hits per nine innings.
“It’s attacking the zone and letting my stuff play in the zone. Having that confidence and competing,” he said.
Pivetta said the Sox coaches, including game planning coach Jason Varitek, have come up with the right words to reach him. He feels like there’s start-to-start improvement as a result.
From afar last season, Alex Cora saw a pitcher he liked. Up close he’s even more impressed.
“He’s been good. He’s been really good,” the manager said. “He’s been good since he got here last year.”
Pivetta is 7-0 with a 2.89 ERA in nine starts since the trade. The Sox are 8-1 in those games.
Asked if he thought much about how much his circumstances have changed, Pivetta pitched around the question.
“The worst thing you can do is think about it,” he said. “Go out every single day [and] have fun. You get to play baseball. Everybody enjoys being at the ballpark. Everybody enjoys being here.
“I love being here.”