Red Sox starter Nick Pivetta goes the distance in a statement game

Boston Red Sox starter Nick Pivetta tossed a rare complete game

A collective groan rumbled throughout Fenway Park as the ball sailed over the wall in left-center field for a lead-off home run by Jose Altuve. After ace Nathan Eovaldi tied an MLB record by allowing five home runs in one inning the previous night, Boston Red Sox fans felt they were in for another long night when Nick Pivetta lost the 10-pitch battle to the first batter he faced to put his team in an early hole. That dreadful feeling wouldn’t last long, as Pivetta quickly changed the tone.

Pivetta retired the next 18 batters he faced on his way to an absolute gem. The solo shot by Altuve would be the only run he allowed and a ground rule double by Michael Brantley to lead off the seventh was the only other base runner to reach for the Astros in Pivetta’s nine innings on the mound.

Pivetta delivered the second complete game of his career, with the previous occurrence coming in 2019 when he was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. A seven-inning effort in Texas last Friday was his only other start this season in which he lasted more than six innings.

This was the first complete game by a Red Sox pitcher since Chris Sale threw one in Kansas City on June 5, 2019. It was the first by a Red Sox pitcher at Fenway Park since Rick Porcello tossed a one-hitter against the Yankees on Aug. 3, 2018.

The Red Sox have rarely allowed their starters to go deep into games this season, noting the dip in performance when facing an opposing lineup for the third time in the game. This is a league-wide trend with most teams leaning heavier than ever on their bullpens.

Pivetta is the first Red Sox starting pitcher to record at least one out in the eighth inning this year. With the Astros lineup turning over for a fourth time in the ninth inning and Pivetta already over the century mark with his pitch count, we had to wonder if Alex Cora was going to allow his starter to finish the job.

According to MassLive’s Chris Cotillo, Cora made his decision as soon as he saw the intensity in the face of Pivetta as he entered the dugout between innings.

“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. From the bullpen, as soon as he gets in, he goes somewhere else mentally.”

Pivetta rewarded his manager’s trust by retiring the side in order in the ninth to record the fourth complete game in the majors this season.

The right-hander was dominant following a quick recovery from his lone blemish to begin the game. Pivetta threw nearly 70 percent of his season-high 112 pitches for strikes, including 19 whiffs, while matching a season-high with eight strikeouts.

Control issues plagued Pivetta throughout a rough patch in April. He allowed 13 walks over 16 1/3 innings through his first four starts of the season. Pivetta didn’t allow a free pass to the Astros and has issued only one walk over his last four starts. His walk rate went from alarming to a reasonable 3.0 BB/9 that would be his best since 2018.

A dip in velocity was another concern early in the season but Pivetta is slowly regaining his mid-90s heat. He averaged 93.6 mph on his four-seam fastball against the Astros, up slightly from his 93 mph average this season, with a max of 95.5 mph, per Baseball Savant.

Pivetta sits in the bottom five percent of the league in average exit velocity. The Astros only hit three balls with an exit velocity over 102 mph, which includes the Altuve homer and Brantley double.

This was a statement win for Pivetta. He has turned his season around with three consecutive brilliant outings but this one felt different. The Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers have talent in their lineups but both clubs are off to disappointing starts this season, ranking in the bottom half of the majors in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. This time, Pivetta shut down a powerful Astros lineup that ranks third in the AL in runs scored and SLG.

It was also a statement win for the Red Sox against a Houston team that owns the AL’s second-best record. Boston took two out of three in the series, locking in their second consecutive series victory and only their third of the season. They got some revenge against the team that knocked them out in the ALCS last year, continuing an encouraging trend that started when they split a short series against the defending champions in Atlanta last week.

The Red Sox have now won five of their last eight games to climb out of the basement of the AL East. Boston has already been buried in the division race but they sit only 4.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. This season is far from being a lost cause.

The offense is starting to pick up steam with 4+ runs in six of their last eight games, including 15 runs over three games against a strong Houston pitching staff that ranks third in the majors with a 3.01 ERA, per FanGraphs.

As their bats get back on track, Pivetta is doing his part to deliver the pitching this team needs to keep Boston in the game. Many were willing to give up on him following his brutal month to open the season but Pivetta is proving his worth with a stretch that reminds us of how dominant he can be when he’s on top of his game.