The sounds you heard on Thursday night were the collective sighs of baseball fans in New England who watched Red Sox manager Alex Cora remove Nick Pivetta with a no-hitter intact.
What a letdown.
It was a painful but sensible choice as Cora walked to the mound with two outs in the seventh and Pivetta’s pitch count at 100.
But Cora might’ve irritated the baseball gods in the process, because the Sox went on to lose to the Rays, 1-0, in one of the most unusual and gut-wrenching ways possible.
“It all depends how you see it,” Cora said. “I thought it was a great baseball game.”
Matt Barnes was on the mound in the bottom of the ninth to keep the game scoreless and get it to extras. And then the Red Sox’ sloppy defense once again led to a devastating result.
Manny Margot hit a two-out single, then stole second and advanced to third when Christian Vazquez threw a one-hopper to second and Marwin Gonzalez couldn’t hold onto it. It skipped into the outfield and Margot took the extra 90 feet.
After intentionally walking Joey Wendle to get to Francisco Mejia, Barnes threw a wicked curve that Mejia whiffed at for strike two. But Vazquez couldn’t hang onto the pitch in the dirt and once again it bounced away, Margot scored easily from third and the ballgame was over.
It looked like one of the worst losses of the season, but Cora was quick to say otherwise after the game. His spin was that the Sox could hang with the Rays, one of the best teams in baseball, and he was proud of his team for playing them tight in the series.
“A lot of people, they didn’t believe in (our) team before the season,” Cora said. “I think the way we played against these guys tonight shows how good we are. We have a lot of work to do. We know that. But we belong in the conversation. We’re really good. It’s going to be a fun summer in Boston.”
The problem is that the Rays won the series, 2-1, and moved back into first place in the American League East by a half-game.
And the Sox will be left with that icky feeling of letting a close game slip out of their grasp as they fly home for a pivotal three-game set with the Yankees.
1. In the old days, sure, Pivetta wasn’t going anywhere with a no-hitter in the seventh inning.
But he hasn’t thrown more than 111 pitches this year (or in any of his five big league seasons). As strong and sharp as he looked, to ask him to go another 30 or so pitches in a tie game against a division rival would’ve been a tall order.
Asked after the game, Pivetta said it was easily the right call to take him out. He estimated he would’ve needed to go 140, 150 or 160 pitches to complete that game, and while he thinks he could pitch all day if he was needed to, he had no qualms.
There have been six no-hitters in MLB this year, and all of them took between 101 and 117 pitches. It would’ve been almost impossible for Pivetta, with 100 pitches and seven outs still to go, to stay under 130 total.
Even the seventh inning, which would’ve been a perfect inning for him if Michael Chavis didn’t make a mess out of a routine grounder, took him 15 pitches for the first three batters.
“I did not want to come out, but it’s not about me, it’s about the game,” Pivetta said. “It’s about winning baseball games. That’s what’s most important. The matchups worked out really well with (Josh Taylor). He’s been doing really well against lefties and that’s really important. It was a tie ballgame at the time. I was at 100 pitches. Right now it’s just about winning baseball games and that’s the most important.”
Most importantly, Pivetta’s spin rate in his first start under MLB’s new rules was about the same it’s been all year.
“I thought my curveball was really sharp early,” he said. “It was spinning really nice.”
2. Cora made the safer choice, removing Pivetta and turning the ball to his best relievers.
Taylor extended his scoreless outings streak to 22 games. Darwinzon Hernandez looked strong behind him. And Adam Ottavino got it done in the eighth.
When Cora walked out to take the ball from Pivetta, Cora told him, “Great job. But the way J.T. has been throwing the ball and the lefties coming up, we have to go to him.”
Pivetta shook his head in agreement and handed the ball over.
“It wasn’t tough,” Cora said. “It’s a 0-0 game, we have one of the best lefties in the game, probably the best lefty throwing the ball in the game. It was a no-brainer.”
3. The Sox blew some chances in this one.
In the fifth, Vazquez singled, stole second and got to third on a throwing error but Bobby Dalbec struck out and left him stranded.
In the sixth, Rafael Devers grounded out to leave two stranded.
And in the seventh, Hunter Renfroe doubled, then got thrown out trying to score on a Vazquez single.