On Wednesday, a Nick Pivetta two-hitter. On Thursday, a Trevor Story three-homer game. Hope ain’t just the state motto of Rhode Island, a reminder arriving not a moment too soon.
Were it not as sweet as an Olneyville hot weiner on its own, choose two guys who felt like they needed it more as the Sox foundered through April. Pivetta had an uninspiring spring and an ERA north of 6.00 two weeks ago. Story didn’t really have a spring and wasn’t hitting .200 as recently as Sunday.
Now, they have something to build on. They all do.
“Us as a team, we struggled early, but I think everyone now has truly picked it up,” Thursday’s winning pitcher, Tanner Houck, told reporters after he threw four shutout innings to save Rich Hill, who barely got out of the second.
It had been a year since J.D. Martinez hit three homers at Baltimore’s less-maligned Camden Yards last April, but nearly four since Rick Porcello spun the last Red Sox complete game at Fenway Park — Aug. 3, 2018, a game where he only needed 86 pitches for a one-hitter, and where Alex Cora never got to even toy with yanking the righty because Cora got ejected in the first inning.
“The way [Pivetta] was looking at me, I was like, ‘I’m going to stay away. He might kill me,’ ” quipped Cora to reporters Thursday about letting him go 112 against the Astros. “He had that look. He had it.”
If only this were the 2018 rotation, where the presumed No. 3 guy when the year began had a Cy Young already. If only their near matching of Boston’s double the last 48 hours — Steve Pearce had a three-homer game the day before Porcello’s gem in 2018 — was some grand sign.
Ah well. Even if the 2022 team is never going to feel like a plan coming together, we’re starting to see a reasonable facsimile of a contender in the modern game.
Since getting swept by the White Sox, the Red Sox have won six of nine. Rafael Devers (16-for-38, 11 extra-base hits), Story, and J.D. Martinez (4 for 5 Thursday a day after his 18-game hitting streak was snapped) have been the best offensive trio not named Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Josh Donaldson.
Pivetta has a sub-2.00 ERA and FIP this month, helping cover for a tougher few starts from Nate Eovaldi even before whatever the heck happened Tuesday. The bullpen is now free of Ryan Brasier — he’s been optioned to Worcester to make room for the returning Michael Wacha — and sidearming John Schreiber is spinning his slider (and suddenly mid-90s fastball) into a real role.
All in time for a soft portion of the schedule. After three more with the Mariners, a visit to the White Sox (below .500 since their Fenway sweep), five against Baltimore, a pair with Cincinnati (also 6-3 since an, um, auspicious start) and a visit to Oakland to begin the year’s West Coast trip.
Thirteen games that look good on paper, when confidence is beginning to bubble, and the breaks are starting to feel like they’re falling their way.
To be clear, a lot of the fundamental issues with this team remain. Even during this little nine-game surge, they’re still swinging at more pitches than any team in the majors, and their chase rate is fourth. (The White Sox and Baltimore are 1-2.)
Boston pitchers have given up the highest rate of barrels — the best contact against, based on exit velocity and launch angle — even while winning six of nine thanks to all those home runs allowed. Have we mentioned the continued lack of a closer?
No matter, for now. As impressive as Pivetta was Wednesday, a Red Sox team that does much of anything this summer is gonna need to produce a lot more nights like Thursday.
Hill, without his fastball, put Boston in a 4-0 hole just two innings in. It was gone by the end of third thanks to Story’s first two blasts, and at night’s end, the Sox had set season highs in runs, hits, and homers. Seven extra-base hits, a stolen base (by Story, whose five are top 20 in the American League), solid defense, and voila.
It can do that. We had to keep telling ourselves that for five weeks, but the proof is developing.
These are not the world-beaters of four years ago. I still think the highest percentage landing spot for this team is the mediocre bunch we thought they’d be a year ago, with bedlam coming in the offseason as its most recognizable parts begin landing elsewhere.
But a couple days like the last two, and a couple weeks like what they could be beginning to produce, make that an offseason problem again.
That’s good for our collective nerves. And you can rest assured it’s good for theirs as well.
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