Did Nick Pivetta outduel the great Jacob deGrom? Kind of? Sort of? Not really.
But the gritty Red Sox righty did go toe-to-toe with the Mets’ emerging legend in leading his team to a tense and thrilling 1-0 victory at Citi Field on Wednesday night.
It was another night where it just felt like there is something special about these 2021 Red Sox, who were picked by most prognosticators to finish fourth in the American League East and currently lead the division with a 16-9 mark, which is tied with the Dodgers for the most wins in the Majors.
They took both games in Citi Field, following Tuesday’s 2-1 win with another nailbiter.
“We have our own inside joke about power rankings, and all that stuff,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “We treat it like college baseball. I told Xander [Bogaerts] before the game, we beat this guy, we might be No. 1 in the nation in the upcoming days. It's just silly stuff, but they know. They know where they're at, they know what they're doing, they knew who we were facing and it's a tough challenge.”
This latest challenge was one that nobody backed down from -- especially Pivetta (3-0, 2.81 ERA). This, even as deGrom was coming off perhaps the most brilliant start of his career, a complete-game two-hitter against the Nationals in which he walked none and struck out 15.
“The way that I go into it is I have to mentally put myself in that [place] that I'm as good as deGrom and I'm going to be deGrom,” Pivetta said. “That's just what you have to do. He's an incredible pitcher, don't get me wrong, I love watching him pitch. I think he's incredible. But I can't let him being up here, let me get down here. I have to go up and meet him right there and believe in myself.”
Somehow, Pivetta (five innings, one hit, no runs, seven strikeouts) even adopted that mindset during a pivotal at-bat against deGrom.
A career .081 hitter, Pivetta hadn’t taken an at-bat in a Major League game since Sept. 28, 2019. So there he was in the top of the third, hitting six straight foul balls before finally whiffing on the 10th pitch of the at-bat. That was the longest at-bat of his 122 plate appearances, and it just happened to occur against the man most people regard as the best pitcher in the world.
If not for Pivetta’s extended at-bat, deGrom might well have come back out for a seventh inning instead of being done after six.
“To be honest with you, I hadn’t seen a pitch thrown at me in a while,” Pivetta said. “I was just trying to compete against him, do the best I could, trying to wear down his pitches as much as I could. Luckily it worked out in my favor. You know, just trying to compete right there. I know that I'm probably not going to get a hit there. It's deGrom.”
“But if I can foul off a couple pitches, make him throw a couple balls here and there, and just wear down his pitch count, that's probably the biggest thing for me in that start. Just wearing him down and then trying to do the best I can with the job I have.”
Pivetta’s job, of course, was to pitch, and he did a fine job of that, making the 1-0 lead his team staked him to stand up.
The Red Sox scratched out the run they needed with one out in the second, when Christian Vázquez laced an RBI double to the gap in right-center to score Bogaerts, who led off the frame with a double to left.
Pivetta pitched in the National League for long enough to have a pretty good idea that deGrom wouldn’t give up a run for the rest of the night. That made him focus even more on his task, which left little to no margin for error.
“deGrom is an incredible pitcher. It's always a lot of fun facing guys like him. I don’t think there’s a guy like him,” Pivetta said. “You’ve got to keep the ballgame close. You’ve got to compete with him. You got to stay in the same rhythm as him the whole entire game.”
When Pivetta departed, the Red Sox had him covered with brilliant relief, including two more sparkling innings by standout Rule 5 pick Garrett Whitlock.
Marwin Gonzalez made a sparkling play with his glove in the eighth, leaping at full extension to snare a line drive off the bat of Francisco Lindor.
At that point, the Red Sox smelled victory.
"Nick has been throwing the ball well. He’s done an outstanding job,” said Cora. “He gave us five quality innings and the bullpen did the rest. That was fun. The two games were fun. That’s what baseball is all about, good pitching, good defense. The atmosphere was amazing and I’m just happy we got the ‘W' today, we win the series, and now we move on.”