OAKLAND, Calif. — The ball was still in the air when Nick Pivetta turned sharply and walked off the mound, pounding his right fist into his chest as he approached the dugout knowing his work for the day was done.
The Red Sox righthander probably should have been watching the play just in case the ball dropped in. But when his emotions take hold, Pivetta marches on.
And why not? Pivetta pitched seven dominant innings against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday, allowing two singles and striking out 10 in a game the Sox won, 1-0.
“He gets in a zone, and we love it,” manager Alex Cora said.
Pivetta doesn’t hide who he is when he takes the field. His body language delivers an oration of smiles, smirks, scowls, and snarls.
A big strikeout of Matt Olson to leave a runner stranded in the sixth inning had Pivetta doing a high-stepping boogie before he jumped over the first base line.
In a stadium where Dennis Eckersley’s retired No. 43 hangs in the stands behind the plate, Pivetta was the baddest man in town and let it show the same way Eck once did.
“I’m an emotional and energized guy,” Pivetta said. “I really care about everybody on this team. I really want to do good for them every single day. I want to show up for them. I want to pump them up, too.
“I want to be energetic and have fun … it’s just me being me.”
There’s nothing wrong with that, too. As baseball gets less buttoned-down, players like Pivetta are fun to watch.
“It’s not that he’s showing up the opponent, it’s him getting us going,” Cora said. “We enjoy it. He cares.”
Pivetta is 9-3 with a 3.87 earned run average in 19 starts for the Sox since being obtained from Philadelphia last season.
Of all the savvy moves Chaim Bloom has made in the last year, identifying Pivetta as part of the return for Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman has been one of the most impactful.
The Sox are 12-5 in the games Pivetta has started this season and only All-Star Nate Eovaldi has pitched more innings. He’s one of the pillars of a first-place team.
Starting pitching, good or bad, ultimately defines a team. That Pivetta earned a spot in spring training and how he has run with it is a big chapter in the story the Sox are writing so far.
Cora is so confident in this bunch that he rested Xander Bogaerts and Hunter Renfroe on Sunday, even in the ninth inning when they would have been helpful as pinch hitters with a potential insurance run on second.
As he did in 2018, Cora is sticking to what he believes will work over the long term.
“We’ve got a good team,” he said. “We’ve got guys that, maybe they struggle offensively. But they play good defense. Their baseball I.Q. is good.
“We’ve got a bunch of smart baseball players in there. They see the game. They understand the game. That’s something that I’m very proud of them.
“One thing we don’t talk enough [about] is our coaching staff and what they bring to the equation. I think communication wise we’ve done an outstanding job staying on top of things; watching the opponent and what we can learn from them, and we can add to our program.”
As an example, Cora mentioned a recent road trip when the Sox went 2-4 at Kansas City and Tampa Bay after beating Atlanta twice. The Royals and Rays put pressure on the Sox with how aggressively they ran the bases and it was something the coaching started to incorporate.
The Sox are 9-1 since. Not necessarily because of that, but it has been a factor
“It’s a brand of baseball that we like,” Cora said. “We’ve got a bunch of athletes … This coaching staff has done an amazing job with these guys. It’s something that I’m proud of. I delegate. I’m on top of things but I trust them. Everybody has a voice.
“I’m very happy, very excited, for the work they’ve done and looking forward to finishing this thing because it’s been special.”