After the Red Sox rotation hit something of a wall for a good chunk of June, with the offense and bullpen picking them to continue piling up victories, the starters have had a very good run in Oakland to start July. Nick Pivetta got it done on Sunday with the best start of this series, absolutely dominating the Athletics for seven scoreless innings. The team needed every one of those dominant pitches, too, because the Red Sox offense was shut down as well. They got one run that came in on a double play ball, and things got very stressful in the ninth, but ultimately they only needed the single run for the win.
The Red Sox lost their win streak on Saturday in a frustrating loss, but they had a chance to at least win a third straight series if they could take the final game of their three-game set in Oakland. The starting pitching has been good for the first two games of this series, and Nick Pivetta was looking to make it two in a row. He did that in more with one of the most impressive performances we’ve seen from the righty since joining the Red Sox.
Pivetta had everything working in this start, but his breaking balls in particular were letting him mow down this Oakland lineup. He did allow a couple of baserunners in his first inning of work, but he struck out the other three batters he faced to get through the inning without any runs crossing the plate.
From there, it was really just cruise control, as Pivetta was perfect for a while after that first inning. The A’s didn’t manage another baserunner after that first inning through the fifth, with the Red Sox righty picking up five more strikeouts in that four-inning stretch. It wasn’t as though Pivetta was getting lucky on balls in play or anything either, as the A’s were making mostly weak contact all day. It was, to put it plainly, domination for the first half of this game.
The bad news for the Red Sox was that James Kaprielian was rolling just about as well as Pivetta, so this was a true pitchers’ duel. They had no real chances in the first two innings, with their first real opportunity coming in the third. After two quick outs, Kiké Hernández was able to keep the inning alive with a base hit, and then Alex Verdugo followed it up with a double. This was a big chance for Boston to get out in front, but J.D. Martinez hit a ground ball over to the right side to end the inning and strand a pair in scoring position.
The Red Sox again failed to threaten much in the next two innings, having just one batter reach on an error, which meant this one was still scoreless heading into the sixth. Boston again got themselves a chance, and in fact the best chance for either side to that point in the game, when Verdugo led off the inning with his second double of the afternoon and Martinez followed that up with a base hit.
With runners on the corners and nobody out, this was the chance to finally put a run on the board. They did get that part done, but it wasn’t exactly the way they would’ve preferred. Rafael Devers hit into a 4-6-3 double play, giving his team a 1-0 lead but also pretty much killing the chance at them adding on after that.
They didn’t end up adding on, but Pivetta was at least able to come back out to the mound with a lead in hand for the first time all day. On the one hand, the A’s were able to get their first baserunner since the first inning in the bottom half of that sixth, with Tony Kemp getting a ground ball through the right side with one out. On the other hand, that was all Oakland got in the inning, with Pivetta striking out two more in the process to keep the shutout alive.
He’d come back out for one more inning in the seventh, issuing just a walk for another scoreless inning. In all, Pivetta tossed those seven shutout innings, allowing just two hits and walking two while striking out 10.
Now, the game was in the hands of the bullpen for the final two innings, still protecting a 1-0 lead. Garrett Whitlock, who had a small case for an All-Star bid but didn’t make the preliminary roster, came on for the eighth. The rookie did give up a one-out single and then threw a wild pitch to put the tying run in scoring position, but he was able to leave the runner at second and get out of the inning with the lead still intact.
In the ninth, the offense did have a chance to add some insurance after Devers led the inning off with a double, but instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts and/or Hunter Renfroe in off the bench to hit, Alex Cora opted to give them full days off and stuck with the bottom of his lineup. Christian Vázquez, Marwin Gonzalez, and Danny Santana went down in order, and the Red Sox only had the one-run lead heading into the bottom of the ninth.
It was, of course, Matt Barnes getting the call for that bottom of the ninth, just about an hour after he was named to the All-Star team for the first time in his career. Facing the 3-4-5 hitters in the lineup, it was a rough start with Matt Olson smacking a leadoff single to put the tying run on base to start the inning. Barnes did bounce back with an out after that, but then he issued a walk on a third straight long at bat, putting two men on with just one out and his pitch count up to 24 pitches.
That was followed up with a ground ball to cut down the middle man, leaving things up to Seth Brown with men on the corners and two outs. Barnes was able to get the final out, striking Brown out on three pitches to end the stressful inning and close out the victory. The 1-0 win pushed the Red Sox record to 53-32, and with the Rays also winning the lead in the division stays at 4.5 games.
The Red Sox now head down to Southern California to take on the Angels for a three-game set this week starting on Monday. Boston will have Martín Pérez on the mound to take on José Suarez. First pitch is set for 9:38 PM ET.