Not only did the Red Sox drop a game, the series, and the division lead on Thursday, but they did so in about the most painful way possible. They got a brilliant pitching performance from Nick Pivetta, who did not allow a hit through 6 2⁄3 before getting pulled from the game at 100 pitches. But the offense barely managed to do better. The no-hitter was broken up in the eighth, but the game was still scoreless in the bottom of the ninth. There was some poor defense from Christian Vázquez in the inning, including a curveball in the dirt (that got a swinging strike) getting by, allowing the winning run to come across and end the game.
Thursday was a big start for Nick Pivetta, who not only was trying to help his team grab a big series against a top division rival, and not even solely for him to get back on track personally, but also because the Red Sox were coming off a brutal start from Garrett Richards and were looking for a little bit of length tonight. They got exactly what they needed from Pivetta, and more.
It was pretty clear right off the bat that Pivetta was going to be in a zone tonight. After some mild concern that he might be affected by the crackdown on sticky stuff, the righty had everything working in this game in Tampa, and immediately. He struck out the side in the bottom half of the first, getting two with fastballs that were located pretty much perfectly, and then the final one on a curveball below the zone. He’d come through with perfect second and third innings as well to retire all nine batters the first time through the lineup.
He wasn’t quite as perfect after that, but pretty damn close. The fourth saw the Rays get their first baserunner of the night when Brandon Lowe led off the inning with a walk. Pivetta didn’t let it snowball, though, getting a strikeout against Wander Franco before getting Rando Arozarena to fly out to right field. The ball was very high in the air, and Lowe went all the way to second before heading back. I’m not sure if he lost the ball up around the roof or if he was just going that far on purpose, but either way he stepped off the bag in the wrong direction and didn’t retouch it. As a result, he was called out and the inning was over.
Pivetta didn’t get that kind of break in the fifth, but he did just issue a walk and nothing else to keep his no-hitter intact through five. There was a close call in this inning, with Hunter Renfroe having his back. Ji-Man Choi ripped a line drive to deep right field, and Renfroe was able to track it down with a fine running grab.
The problem with this game is that Michael Wacha, the Rays starter, was equally impressive early. The righty had stuff that frankly I’ve never seen from him, at least not any time recently, with his fastball hitting the mid-90s and his changeup just devastating all night. The Red Sox had a little more success than the Rays at the plate, drawing a walk in each of the first two innings, but they were also without a hit through four.
In the fifth, they broke up the no-hitter in about the least impressive way possible. Christian Vázquez got one of those nasty changeups and he had an ugly swing to match the pitch. However, somehow his little cricket-like cut (as Jerry Remy described it in the NESN booth) made contact and he dropped a bloop single into left field. The no-hitter was broken up, and Vázquez made it even better by catching the defense off-guard with a stolen base attempt. Francisco Mejía behind the plate had to throw from his knees, and the ball got into the outfield, allowing Vázquez to get to third. He’d be left there, though, and the game remained scoreless.
Tampa somewhat surprisingly went away from Wacha for the sixth with the lineup coming up for the third time, but the Red Sox recorded two quick outs to start the inning. Like they have with two outs so much this year, however, they rallied a bit from there, getting a pair on with a single and a walk in front of Rafael Devers. It looked like he was going to sneak one through the right side, but Lowe made a nice play in the hole to almost certainly save a run, and we were still scoreless.
Meanwhile, Pivetta only kept rolling into the sixth. He once again was able to get through the frame without a hit, hitting one batter but getting the other three down to take the no-hitter into the seventh.
Moving onto the top half of that seventh inning, Renfroe got the Red Sox off to a big start with a double out to center field. It looked like they were finally going to get on the scoreboard, too, when Vázquez shot a single into center field. The Rays still have Kevin Kiermaier out there, and Renfroe didn’t get the best jump on contact. Carlos Febles still sent him home, and Renfroe again hesitated a bit around the bag before going anyway, and was fairly easily cut down at the plate. In the next at bat, Vázquez was caught way off second base on a back pick, ending the inning and blowing by far the best chance they had to that point in the game.
Pivetta still had the no-hitter going into the seventh, where he was let down by his defense. Following a quick first out, Austin Meadows hit a routine grounder over to first base. Michael Chavis, who had just moved over there from second that inning, couldn’t handle it, allowing the runner to reach safely. After Meadows was off on the pitch and a ground ball to shortstop resulted in only an out at first base, Pivetta was lifted, still with no hits on the board. He was at exactly 100 pitches and was never going to be able to get through the whole game at that pace, but it’s still always a surprise to see a pitcher pulled with a no-no.
Josh Taylor came on trying to preserve the team-wide no-no, and after intentionally walking Manuel Margot he was facing Joey Wendle. The Red Sox southpaw won the battle with a fly out to left, stranding two, keeping the game tied, and keeping a goose egg in the hit column for Tampa Bay.
After the Red Sox got a walk and nothing else in the top of the eighth, it was Darwinzon Hernandez looking to keep the no-hitter, and tie ballgame, in hand. He did get one out, but then the no-hitter would be broken up on a solid double from Kiermaier. Not only did that break up the no-hitter, but it put the go-ahead run in scoring position for the top of the lineup.
Hernandez’s night would end on a walk to Lowe, and Adam Ottavino was in with two on and one out. He got a ground out on the first pitch he threw to put runners on the corners, and Franco quickly stole second to put a pair in scoring position. It wouldn’t matter, as Ottavino got Arozarena to pop up behind the plate to keep the game tied heading into the ninth.
In the ninth, the Red Sox were able to get a couple of big breaks with two outs in the inning. Devers drew a walk with one out, and then took off on a pitch that Vázquez hit out to center field. Devers was able to get back, but Kiermaier’s throw was off the mark, and Devers made it up to second as the go-ahead run. To make matters even better for Boston, Devers failed to retouch second — an error the Rays already made in this game! — but Tampa didn’t notice. Despite the two massive breaks, Kiké Hernández couldn’t take advantage, grounding out to short to end the inning.
So now it was up to Matt Barnes, coming on for the bottom of the ninth to try and force this one into extras. Things got a little dicey when Margot poked a two-out base hit through the left side, and then in the next at bat broke for second. The throw from Vázquez couldn’t be picked by Bogaerts, getting into center field and putting Margot 90 feet from winning this game. That’s exactly what he did, as Barnes threw a curveball in the dirt, and while he got a swinging strike for strike two, Vázquez couldn’t keep it in front of him. Margot got in without much problem, and that was the game.
The 2-1 walk-off loss dropped the series for Boston and dropped their record down to 44-31, and it put Tampa back up top in the division with a half-game lead.
The Red Sox now start another big divisional matchup, facing off against the Yankees for three games this weekend. They’ll have Martín Pérez on the mound for the opener Friday night, with Domingo Germán going for New York. First pitch is set for 7:10 PM ET.