Red Sox: Nick Pivetta shines in frustrating loss to Rays

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 27: Nick Pivetta #37 of the Boston Red Sox pitches during the first inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on September 27, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 27: Nick Pivetta #37 of the Boston Red Sox pitches during the first inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on September 27, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

Red Sox starter Nick Pivetta shined in a heartbreaking loss to the Rays

Nick Pivetta deserved better than a no-decision for his dazzling performance in a game the Boston Red Sox eventually went on to lose in frustrating fashion to surrender the division lead to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Pivetta opened the game by striking out the first three batters he faced and didn’t let off the gas from there. He leaned on the fastball early, throwing his first seven for strikes. His four-seamer had a little extra oomph on it, averaging 95.7 MPH, or about 1 MPH faster than he’s averaged in 2021. He used the four-seamer as the put away pitch on three of his eight strikeouts, including this beautiful top-corner paint job against Rays’ top prospect, Wander Franco, in the 4th inning.

Pivetta wasn’t just dealing with his fastball. His curveball and slider were untouchable, both generating a whiff percentage in the mid-40’s. For comparison, in Trevor Bauer’s Cy Young award winning season last year, his slider and curveball whiff percentage were in the mid-30’s. Pivetta generated four K’s with the curve and one more with the slider.

That doesn’t mean it was all smooth sailing. Pivetta did show a few chinks in his armor and allowed batters to reach base via walk (2), a hit by pitch, and an error. While Pivetta was mostly untouchable, a few guys came close. In the 5th inning, Ji-Man Choi hit a 106.9 MPH missile to right field with an expected batting average of .890.  Hunter Renfroe made an impressive grab, snaring it out of the air to keep Pivetta’s no-hit bid alive.

Despite his strong performance on the night, Pivetta wouldn’t be given the opportunity to take his no-hitter the distance. In the 7th inning, with the game still tied at 0-0, Michael Chavis misplayed a grounder at first, taking an error but allowing Austin Meadows to get aboard. Pivetta induced a ground-out against the next batter for the second out of the inning while Meadows advanced to second base.

A runner in scoring position and Pivetta with 100 pitches under his belt on the night was enough for Alex Cora to give him the hook.  Pivetta ended the night with a stat line of 6.2IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K.

I commend Cora for the decisiveness to pull Pivetta before the Rays had a chance to get to him.

"“It wasn’t tough…It was a no-brainer,” Cora told the media after the game, per Masslive’s Christopher Smith."

Pivetta has only thrown 100+ pitches in 5 of 14 starts this year and there was still 2 1/3 innings left for him to get through. To complete the game would’ve required at least another 30-40 pitches out of him. He was never going to be allowed to go that far. In a tie ballgame against against a division rival with 1st place in the AL east on the line the priority needs to be to win the game, not to let the pitcher go for glory.

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In Pivetta’s career as a starting pitcher coming into tonight he had a 4.48 ERA when facing hitters for the first time in the game. His second trip through the order his ERA is 4.74 and his third time through the order tends to get ugly with his ERA ballooning to 7.03. In 2021 alone, against the 66 batters he’s faced for the third time in a game he’s allowing a 1.011 OPS and a 9.00 ERA.

I get the call by Cora, I even agree with it. That doesn’t mean I like. As a fan I would’ve loved to see him stay out there until he either gave up a hit or, god-willing, robbed Jordan’s Furniture blind and finished the mission on the mound.

The Red Sox bullpen eventually gave up the combined no-hitter in the 8th inning but maintained the 0-0 score line into the 9th. Matt Barnes took the mound to try to send the game to extras and retired the first two batters in order. Manuel Margot reached base on an outfield single, the Rays second hit of the night. A stolen base, a throwing error, and a passed ball later and Margot was sliding into home for the walk-off win. Pivetta’s gem of an outing was squandered.

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Despite the loss, Cora still made the right call pulling Pivetta. It’s not as if having Pivetta on the mound instead of Barnes could’ve prevented the comedy of errors that lead the Rays lone run. The wrong result doesn’t mean the process was wrong, sometimes crazy stuff just happens in baseball.