HOUSTON — Throwing a shutout of at least nine innings with fewer than 100 pitches has unofficially been termed a Maddux in honor of Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, long the model of efficient excellence.
There hasn’t been one in the majors since 2019 and the last time a Red Sox pitcher accomplished the feat was in 2014 when Clay Buchholz bamboozled the Tampa Bay Rays.
Martín Pérez fell four outs shy against the Houston Astros on Thursday but gave the Sox a much-needed lift to a 5-1 victory.
His Maddux will have to wait. Pérez put two runners on base in the eighth inning and with the dangerous Alex Bregman coming up, Adam Ottavino was called in.
Strategically, it was understandable. The Sox had lost the first three games of the series and Pérez was their first starter to work into the eighth inning this season.
With the first series of the season against the Yankees starting on Friday in the Bronx, securing the win had to be the priority, not chasing a shutout.
But it was still disappointing because Pérez was actually pitching to contact, changing speeds and using all the tools on his belt. It was enjoyable to watch some mound artistry at a time when most pitchers pursue strikeouts above all else.
Pérez didn’t record a strikeout until the fifth inning and had only four in the game with one walk. Through seven innings his pitch count was 67, something even Maddux himself would have taken pride in.
“He had a good fastball, good breaking ball, good changeup. Throwing strikes, under control,” manager Alex Cora said. “That was amazing today.”
The Maddux was in sight until Garrett Stubbs singled and Aledmys Diaz drew a walk.
Diaz had already had two hits and Pérez tried to get him to chase a cutter off the plate. At 82 pitches that was enough, not that Pérez wanted to come out.
“I can go nine or 10. It doesn’t matter,” he said. “They decided it was over for me.”
After Pérez was saluted by his grateful teammates, Ottavino retired Bregman on a fly ball.
Pérez was the No. 5 starter to open the season but has arguably been the Red Sox’ most reliable starter. He is 4-2 with a 3.09 earned run average and worked at least five innings in nine of his 11 starts.
He also has dropped his walk rate from 4.1 per nine innings to 2.7, something the Red Sox have worked with him on. They felt Pérez didn’t trust his pitches enough last season.
The Sox also have tended to cap him at five innings because Pérez doesn’t have the kind of stuff that typically stays effective deep into games. But five innings is fine when you carry nine relief pitchers as the Sox usually do.
“We know who he is,” Cora said. “There’s certain days that we feel it’s a short outing, five innings. Others we can let him go.”
After watching the Sox lose the first three games at Minute Maid Park, Pérez knew he needed to be sharp on Thursday.
“I needed to go deep, and I needed to attack these guys because they were swinging the bat good,” he said. “Pitch my game, do my job. I just wanted to win.”
The Sox let Pérez go in November, declining to pick up his $6.25 million contract option after he was 3-5 with a 4.50 ERA in 12 starts.
Eleven weeks later, the starting pitching market had not developed as either side anticipated, and Pérez returned to the Sox on a deal that guaranteed him $5 million.
The peripheral statistics, especially the weak contact Pérez induced, suggested he was worth a modest investment. Now he’s one of the best bargains in the game.
Pérez had other offers, but he told his agent to keep negotiating with the Red Sox. He enjoyed the 2020 season, even without fans at Fenway Park.
“This is kind of like home for me,” he said. “The way that I enjoy the game here, it’s totally different. I want to win, man. That’s my goal. I came here to do my best for the team. The time that I have the ball in my hands I just believe in myself and trust myself.”