Nick Pivetta always emphasizes competition.
Regardless of the result, he always points out that his goal is to compete and win.
The winning, once again, won’t extend beyond September. The Red Sox have booked their one-way ticket toward another lost season.
The competition, however, is still very present for the pitcher, who has been thrust into a number of roles out of necessity this season.
Saturday’s game against the White Sox had delay written all over it before first pitch. The inclement weather around the Fenway area threatened another postponement.
Yet the game started on time and Pivetta’s performance rivaled that of the White Sox’ Dylan Cease. It was the antithesis of a delay. If you turned your head, you missed it.
In just over an hour and a half, Pivetta navigated his way through seven scoreless innings, yielding just three singles while striking out seven on 92 pitches.
Pivetta pitched 6⅓ innings in his previous outing against the Blue Jays, yielding two runs on four hits. Performances like his last two are what the righthander has been searching for.
“I think it’s a level of consistency I always expect of myself on a day-to-day basis, between my starts or relief appearances,” said Pivetta following Saturday’s 1-0 loss. “It’s what I expect to do. It’s what the Red Sox expect me to do. It’s what my teammates expect me to do. Just having games like that and continuing that consistency is all I can control and moving forward.”
The Red Sox couldn’t get to Cease either, despite collecting six hits. The White Sox righthander held Boston scoreless through seven, striking out 11.
“It’s 97 [miles per hour] with 21 inches of hop,” manager Alex Cora said regarding Cease’s fastball that wreaked havoc on Red Sox hitters. “It’s not easy to hit with his good offspeed pitches. He’s a good one.”
The Red Sox had a chance to score against Aaron Bummer, who walked Ceddanne Rafaela and Rafael Devers to start the bottom of the eighth inning. The meat of the order was up, beginning with Justin Turner. Yet Turner, who is playing on a bad heel and has looked out of sorts, struck out on five pitches, chasing a sweeper in the dirt. Alex Verdugo lined out, and Masataka Yoshida, who had three hits against Cease, grounded out to end the frame.
Then in the ninth with the game still scoreless, Luis Robert Jr. poked an opposite-field homer to right, which was enough to sink the Red Sox to 76-79 with Sunday’s rubber match on the horizon.
As the season inches to its conclusion, the Red Sox have turned their dour reality into silver linings. Cora has said that the team owes it to its fans to play with energy and emotion. Pivetta embodied that throughout his outing, bellowing after strikeouts, immersing himself in the emotions of a game that had no stakes.
“I think it’s life or death,” said Pivetta. “I mean, it’s win or lose. I’m always trying to go as deep as I can into a baseball game, and contribute in any way I can, whether it’s in the relief spot or a starting spot. I’ll carry that energy throughout the year. We’re lucky to be in this situation. I’m lucky to be in the big league every single day. And that’s my job.”
Competitiveness helped Pivetta retire 10 of the last 11 batters he faced Saturday in what was his second-longest start of the season. Competitiveness has helped Pivetta strike out 23 batters over his last three starts to go along with a 2.41 ERA. Pivetta was removed from the rotation earlier this season because he underperformed, but competitiveness, and improved stuff, has him back in the mix for a starter’s gig next season.
“He learned a lot this year and he’s in a better position going into the offseason, knowing that he can compete at this level,” said Cora. “Let’s see what the offseason brings but I’m excited about him because, I think, finally he’s put it together.”