Sox's early deficit spoils Fenway celebration

April 15th, 2022

BOSTON -- The weather was about as perfect (game-time temperature of 65 degrees, sparkling sun) as it gets for a home opener at this time of year in Boston.

The ceremonies ranged from powerful to poignant, particularly when Mo Vaughn’s 9-year-old son Lee went from the stretch and fired the ceremonial first pitch on Jackie Robinson Day for a high strike.

Then the game started and things unraveled for starting pitcher Nick Pivetta as the Red Sox lost, 8-4, to the Twins on Friday at Fenway Park. Stymied for six innings by Twins starter Joe Ryan, the Sox stormed back on the strength of a two-run homer by Rafael Devers for a three-run bottom of the eighth to slim the deficit to 6-4.

Unlike in 1998, when Vaughn turned a mostly forgettable home opener into an epic with one swing -- a walk-off grand slam on another Good Friday -- there was no such magic finale this time.

Instead, there was analysis of why it went so wrong, so quickly for Pivetta.

“He struggled with his command a little bit,” said Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush. “Went through stages the first couple of innings where he landed some breaking balls for strikes and then couldn’t and found himself behind in the count.

“Tough way to pitch for anybody. One of the things that makes Nick really good is when he lands curveballs for strikes and his fastball plays up. He just didn’t have the command for it today.”

Of the 14 benders Pivetta threw, only six were strikes. And of those six, the Twins swung through only one.

For just the second time in his 35 starts as a member of the Red Sox (including the postseason), Pivetta recorded fewer than seven outs.

With Pivetta’s fastball topping out at 94 mph –- which was nearly 1 mph slower than his average heater last season -- manager Alex Cora gave him the hook after two innings.

“It was disappointing. I just wanted to continue to go out there, but I didn’t really deserve that,” Pivetta admitted. “I just wasn’t in my legs. Didn’t have that consistency with the velocity. I just didn’t feel great. It was disappointing, but I’m going to keep moving forward from here.”

The righty gave up five hits and four runs while walking two and striking out two. Of his 54 pitches, Pivetta generated just five swings and misses.

“I just didn’t have much of a rhythm or much timing today. Getting behind a lot of guys, just not a lot of competitive pitches, just trying to find my timing within my mechanics, and just kind of spraying fastballs,” said Pivetta, who will face the heavy-hitting Blue Jays in five days.

It was bothersome to the ultra-competitive Pivetta to have such a tough day amid the spectacle of the home opener, which always comes with a big build-up in the baseball-crazed city of Boston.

“It’s really disappointing on my part. I want to go out there and I want to pitch really, really well every single time,” said Pivetta. “Not only for my teammates, but for the fans as well and for the city of Boston. It was disappointing, but this is where it stops, and I’ll just continue to move forward and have a really good game next time against Toronto.”

With Chris Sale and James Paxton both out until at least June with injuries, the Red Sox are depending on Pivetta to be the No. 2 starter for these first two months.

Perhaps it was with the big picture in mind that Cora didn’t let the day snowball too much for Pivetta, giving him a quick hook with the game still at the manageable score of 4-1. Managers and pitching coaches throughout the game are forced to be mindful of the fact pitchers didn’t get their normal build-up during this shortened Spring Training.

“That’s part of the thought process,” said Cora. “I looked up and saw the stuff, and he’ll be the first to tell you the stuff wasn’t there. Obviously, we want him to go deep in the game.”

Though the result was disappointing for Pivetta and the Red Sox, they were able to keep in perspective that the home opener only comes once a year.

“It was good. It was great,” Cora said of the festivities. “What we expected, right? Too bad we didn't play better. But this is what it’s all about. Home opener at Fenway, packed house, beautiful day.”