Nick Pivetta sputtered through his first three or four starts to begin the season. It all blurs together when you’re struggling. His velocity or the life on his pitches wasn’t there, nor was the command. He had an 8.27 ERA through his first four outings. He walked 14 batters in that 16 ⅓ innings of work.
In between starts, Pivetta alone at his locker, tried to find his mechanics. Searching for something. Hoping something would click.
On Wednesday at Fenway Park, there was no searching for Pivetta. Just competing. Just a day after the Red Sox fell flat, losing 13-4, Pivetta tossed a complete game, yielding just one run on two hits and striking out eight in a 5-1 Red Sox win to seal a series victory.
It’s the first Sox complete game since Chris Sale tossed one against the Royals on June 5, 2019, and the first at Fenway since Rick Porcello on Aug. 3, 2018 against the Yankees.
“I guess this is why we love the game,” said manager Alex Cora.
“I felt good,” Pivetta said. “I felt confident. I was in the zone.”
Pivetta’s words, for the most part, aren’t in unison with his emotion. When he speaks, it’s simple, to the point, measured. There isn’t that rawness of emotion he displays when he’s on the mound. Yet his intensity in both spaces, be it in the press conference or on the mound never wavers. That’s where the two worlds collide and become one.
“The way he was looking at me, I’m like, I’m gonna stay away, he might kill me,” Cora said about potentially pulling the righthander before the ninth. “He had that look.”
That look never left Pivetta despite yielding a leadoff homer to Jose Altuve in the top of the first. After the Astros rocked Nate Eovaldi for five homers in just one inning Tuesday, the early part of the game Wednesday had the feeling that recent history might be in for a repeat.
But Pivetta went on to retire the next 18 batters he faced until a Michael Brantley double in the top of the seventh. Pivetta responded by sitting down the next three batters he faced.
And if you go back to the Altuve at-bat, Pivetta had the right idea despite the outcome.
Houston is aggressive and has success early in the count. On 0-0 counts, the team’s slugging percentage is .586, which ranked eighth in the majors. They’ve collected 58 hits in that situation, the fourth-most in the majors. On first-pitch four-seam fastballs, the Astros are third with 22 while slugging .667.
So Pivetta had to mix up his arsenal to keep this potent Houston offense quiet. He started Altuve with a first-pitch slider. He followed that up with a curveball. But both were balls, quickly putting Pivetta in a 2-0 hole.
The righthander battled back, getting the count to 3-2 before challenging Altuve with a 95 mile-per-hour heater at the top top of the zone that Altuve belted over the Green Monster. That didn’t change Pivetta’s line of thinking, though.
He established his breaking pitches early in the count — particularly to the meat of the Astros’ order — then expanding away with his fastball, sometimes using it as a show-me pitch. The next two times he saw Altuve, his plan didn’t change. He began with breaking pitches then sprinkled in his fastball. Both ended in strikeouts.
“It was amazing,” catcher Christian Vázquez said of Pivetta’s night. “The fastball was electric. The curveball was sharp. I thought it was going to be a crazy night again [after the Altuve homer] but we turned the page and executed the plan all night.”
The heart of the Red Sox order continues to stay hot. Rafael Devers led the bottom half of the first off with a triple and then scored on a sacrifice fly. Xander Bogaerts roped his fourth homer of the season for a solo shot in that first frame. The Sox tagged Astros starter Luis Garcia for five runs, which included a Devers RBI double off the Monster in the third, and back-to-back RBI singles by Vázquez and Kiké Hernández in the fourth.
The Sox now have a four-game series ahead against the Mariners which begins Thursday. The Sox had just one series win (against the Tigers in April) before taking the last two.
Pivetta’s complete game outing had much to do with it.
“I’ll enjoy this moment,” Pivetta said. “But I [have] to continue to work.”