OAKLAND -- As the ball soared high into the cloudless sky, Nick Pivetta turned his back to the play and began walking off the field. He pumped his right hand several times, a subtle display of swagger. He knew that the fly ball would be caught, that his afternoon would end on his own terms, that his masterpiece was complete.
Pivetta bounced back from the worst start of the season with his best in the Red Sox’s 1-0 win over the A’s on Sunday at Oakland Coliseum, throwing a season-high seven innings of shutout ball with a season-high 10 strikeouts. And while the matinee lacked offensive fireworks, Pivetta compensated with his enticing displays of emotion.
“There’s nothing wrong with showing emotion. Nothing wrong with that,” manager Alex Cora said. “It’s him getting us going. We enjoy it. We like it. We don’t mind it. There’s a lot of people that do that and I think he shows emotion -- he cares.”
The showmanship was on display early and often. After striking out Jed Lowrie to end the first inning and strand runners on second and third, Pivetta emphatically slapped his chest. Pivetta used that same “walk to the dugout with the ball still in the air” move earlier in the game, doing so after getting Elvis Andrus to fly out to end the third inning.
The right-hander was also privy to some hopscotch-esque moves. Pivetta struck out Matt Olson, who had just been named an All-Star before his plate appearance, to end the sixth, then jumped over the first-base line and brought his knee up to his chest. To Pivetta’s teammates, it’s nothing new.
“He has a really bad poker face, you could say,” said J.D. Martinez, who was also named to the All-Star roster on Sunday, alongside teammates Nathan Eovaldi and Matt Barnes. “He shows his emotions for everything in the clubhouse and on the field.”
“He brings emotion to the equation,” Cora said. “It’s not only when he pitches. He’s out there the other four days pulling for his teammates. He’s very intense. He loves winning.”
The Red Sox were more than happy to see Pivetta strut his stuff across seven quality innings because it was a game where he needed to be sharp.
Pitching for Oakland was rookie James Kaprielian, who also turned in seven stellar innings of one-run ball with a career-high 10 strikeouts. The lone run Boston squeezed out of Kaprielian came when Rafael Devers grounded into a double play with Alex Verdugo, who had two doubles on the afternoon, on third base. Pivetta was just a tad sharper.
“He’s got a fastball at the top of the zone and a curveball that comes out of the same plane,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “Then, he’s got a slider he throws in off-count and behind in the count. Mixes in changeups just enough to stay unpredictable."
Pivetta’s stellar outing not only helped win the game, but had the dual effect of helping preserve Boston’s bullpen. In Friday and Saturday’s extra-inning affairs, Boston’s relievers combined to pitch 10 1/3 innings. Thanks to Pivetta’s lengthy outing, Cora only had to utilize Garrett Whitlock for the hold and Barnes for the save -- which the All-Star reliever capped with his 500th career strikeout.
“The bullpen’s been there for me a lot this year,” Pivetta said. “I was just doing my part right back for them.”
Boston’s bullpen, as well as the team as a whole, would certainly love to watch Pivetta shove as he did to begin the season. In his first eight starts of the year, Pivetta had a 3.16 ERA across 42 2/3 innings. In his next eight starts, Pivetta had a 5.70 ERA across, coincidentally enough, 42 2/3 innings. Sunday’s outing, then, was a step forward.
Should Pivetta continue stringing these quality outings together, his teammates will get to continue to relish in the passion he displays.
“I’m an emotional and energized guy,” Pivetta said. “I really care about everybody on this team. I really want to do good for them every single day and I want to show up for them. I want to pump them up, too.”