Nick Pivetta strutted off the mound and slapped his chest when he struck out Yuli Gurriel swinging at a curveball to end the seventh inning on Wednesday night.
In the steadfastly risk-averse environment of modern baseball, the righthander had more than done his job against the Houston Astros. Seven innings is considered a lengthy outing these days.
But there were no handshakes or hugs waiting for the Pivetta in the dugout. Red Sox manager Alex Cora was sending him back out for the eighth inning.
Finally, a manager defying conventional thinking and tearing up the script. The revolution starts now.
Not really. It was more like self-preservation.
“The way he was looking at me, I was like, ‘I’m going to stay away. He might kill me,’ ” Cora said. “He had that look. He had it.”
Pivetta had the determination, too. He retired the side in order in the eighth inning and again in the ninth for a complete game in a 5-1 victory.
It was the first complete game for the Red Sox since 2019 and only the third nine-inning complete game in the majors this season.
The crowd of 31,717 at Fenway Park, or at least those remaining, cheered when Pivetta took the field in the ninth inning and got louder when he finished off his 112-pitch gem.
“That’s why we love the game, right?” Cora said.
Pivetta threw 10 pitches to the first batter of the game, Jose Altuve. The last one was a fastball Altuve drove over the wall in left-center.
The fans booed, remembering the five homers Nate Eovaldi allowed in the second inning on Tuesday. But Pivetta retired the next 18 batters on only 56 pitches.
Michael Brantley led off the seventh inning with a double. Pivetta then retired nine in a row to finish the game.
He was simpatico with catcher Christian Vázquez all night, mixing his pitches and working at a brisk pace that kept the Houston hitters from getting comfortable.
Pivetta is 13-12 with a 4.33 earned run average in 41 games for the Sox since he was picked up in the 2020 trade that sent Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman to the Phillies.
The prize for the Sox was young righthander Connor Seabold, who has a 2.45 ERA in seven Triple A starts this season. Pivetta was a throw-in who has since nailed down a rotation spot.
Chaim Bloom nailed that one.
Pivetta is a talented pitcher. He throws four pitches for strikes and can dial his fastball up to 97 miles per hour. But his success is more predicated on his determination.
“He competes at everything and everything is 100 miles per hour every day,” Cora said. “In the weight room, playing basketball with the boys [in the clubhouse], he’s very intense.
“He’s learned throughout the years to control his emotions. He saw the finish line but he was able to slow down.”
Pivetta’s tunnel vision doesn’t dull his senses. He took notice of the fans cheering when he came out of the dugout for the ninth inning and paused a second.
“It was nice to hear and I appreciate the crowd,” Pivetta said.
There were 234 complete games in 2000, 165 in 2010, and 50 in 2021. As starting pitchers became more expensive, managers became more cautious.
Relief pitchers are more talented than ever before and a fresh bullpen arm in the eighth or ninth inning is almost always a better choice than a tiring starter.
That explains why the crowd was staring at the dugout steps waiting for Pivetta to come out for the ninth. They understood how rare a moment it was.
Might this be the start of something for the stagnant 15-22 Sox? Houston had won 12 of 13 coming into Fenway and the Sox took 2 of 3 in the series.
“That’s the goal for us, to win series,” Vazquez said. “Turn the page and play better … we need that.”