The calendar said it was only the ninth of April. The schedule said it was just the ninth game of the season. Jake Peavy's attitude said otherwise.
"This was a big one for our team," said the Red Sox right-hander. "Getting swept (by Milwaukee), we had to come back and try to win this series. I knew coming in that it was a big start, and we had to find a way to scratch, and claw, and get a win out of this."
Peavy didn't get the win himself, as he exited with the game tied at one and two out in the top of the seventh, so the credit for a 4-2 triumph instead went to Andrew Miller, who actually allowed the Rangers to briefly take a lead in the eighth before becoming the pitcher of record when David Ortiz put Boston ahead for good a half inning later.
But the Sox were in a position where Ortiz could play hero again in large part because of a performance from their starting pitcher that ranks among Peavy’s very best since he was acquired from Chicago late last July. Over his 6.2 innings he scattered just three hits, and despite four walks he also matched his Boston-best with eight strikeouts.
The Rangers didn’t reach him for a run until he essentially split the strike zone into quadrants with an 89 mph (supposed-to-be) sinker on a 2-0 count to Mitch Moreland, though the mistake that the Texas first baseman drove to the bullpen was the obvious exception on an afternoon when Peavy’s ability to locate allowed him to masterfully mix his pitches and keep the Rangers off balance.
Saying his feel for his breaking stuff was “quite a bit better” than it had been in the home opener five days earlier – when he still yielded just two runs over six innings – the biggest difference for Peavy was how much he used his curveball Wednesday. According to PITCHf/x he threw it about five times as often as he did last Friday, and, better yet, he was able to regularly throw it for strikes, including four of his outing’s nine swings and misses.
He went to his changeup about as often against the Rangers as he had against the Brewers, but that pitch was also more effective for him in his second start, and so overall he was less reliant on his fastball. It was there when he needed it, and he got it up to 93 mph while typically sitting at around 91, but the beauty of his outing was that he didn’t always need it when the Texas hitters thought he did.
He consistently changed speeds, and kept the Rangers guessing, as the visual learners can see in the peaks and valleys evident here, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net:
"When he got in fastball counts for them, if he did fall behind, he was able to get his breaking stuff over. I thought he did a phenomenal job."
"When you've got three pitches for strikes it's a day you're likely going to get through the lineup three times (and) keep the game in check,” manager John Farrell said. “(Wednesday), he's done that. He had a good cutter, good slider, as well as a couple of splits to their left-handers. Yeah, any time you get a starter with quality pitch mix, he's going to keep a lineup in check, right-handed or left-handed."
Right-handers didn’t have a hit against Peavy on Wednesday, while lefties are now batting .177 against him through two starts. And to Farrell’s point about a veteran like Peavy knowing how to manage his way through a lineup, Wednesday marked the eighth straight regular-season start in which the 32-year-old has faced at least 26 batters.
No other Sox starter currently has such a streak longer than two starts. And a night earlier, Felix Doubront faced only 17 Rangers before being knocked out of the game in the third inning. Following that one, Peavy felt as though he had to step up. And he did.
"What a gutsy performance,” said David Ross, who caught and called the game for Peavy. “We needed an outing like that, when you're trying to get away, and you're trying to salvage a series, and you've got a guy like Jake Peavy taking the mound. Doing that for us, it's big.
"It's an important win. We needed it. The last thing you want to do is win one game in your opening homestand."