Nick Pivetta dazzled in his return to the mound on Sunday, but it was not enough to lift the Red Sox to a series-clinching victory over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Boston was limited to just four hits and were walked off on by Chicago, 2-1, marking the third straight one-run game between the two clubs and the Sox’ fifth loss in their last seven games.
Pivetta, making his first start since August 30 after being activated from the COVID-19 related injured list on Sunday, appeared to take advantage of the time he had off by putting together his best outing in more than two months.
Over 5 1/3 strong innings of work, the right-hander allowed just one unearned run on three hits and zero walks to go along with five strikeouts on the afternoon.
While he did deal with some traffic on the base paths early on, Pivetta did at one point retire 11 straight batters leading into the middle of the sixth of what was still a scoreless contest.
Chicago’s No. 8 hitter, Cesar Hernandez, led off the inning by reaching base on an Enrique Hernandez throwing error and promptly advanced into scoring position on a successful sacrifice bunt from Seby Zavala.
Luis Robert did not waste any time in scoring Hernandez from third, as the White Sox leadoff man ripped an RBI single to left field to push across the first run of the day.
That sequence marked the end of the line for Pivetta, who got the hook from Red Sox manager Alex Cora. The 28-year-old hurler finished his outing having thrown 79 pitches (59 strikes) while lowering his ERA on the season to 4.49.
In relief of Pivetta, Adam Ottavino got the first call out of the Boston bullpen, and despite intentionally walking Jose Abreu, he escaped the sixth while stranding the lone runner he inherited.
From there, Darwinzon Hernandez maneuvered his way around a leadoff walk in a scoreless seventh inning before Hansel Robles also walked one in an otherwise clean bottom of the eighth.
To that point, the Red Sox lineup had been held entirety in check by Chicago’s pitching staff, though they did have their opportunities.
After White Sox starter held the Sox to just two singles over five nearly-perfect innings on the hill, Jose Iglesias — who had one of those hits — led off the top of the sixth by drilling a leadoff single off lefty reliever Garrett Crochet.
Representing the potential go-ahead run in an 0-0 game, Iglesias attempted to move up to second when Hernandez lifted a 390-foot fly ball to deep center field, but was instead gunned down at second base by Robert for an 8-4 double play.
The White Sox quickly made the Red Sox pay for that base running blunder with Robert’s go-ahead single off Pivetta, while the Boston bats were unable to get anything else going against Crochet or Jose Ruiz, who recorded the final out of the seventh before tossing a 1-2-3 top of the eighth as well.
Down to their final three outs in the ninth, the Red Sox were matched up against a familiar opponent in former closer Kimbrel, on for the third time in three days going back to Friday night.
Hernandez got the ninth inning started with a bang by lacing a 105.4 mph leadoff double off Kimbrel, and while Kyle Schwarber struck out, both Hunter Renfroe and Rafael Devers drew a pair of walks to load the bases for Alex Verdugo.
Verdugo, as he has done throughout the season, plated Hernandez on a sacrifice fly to left field to bring in the tying run, but Bobby Dalbec punched out on four pitches to get Kimbrel off the hook in what had become a 1-1 game.
Looking to send this one into extras for a second straight day, Garrett Whitlock quickly got the first two outs of the bottom of the ninth by fanning both Eloy Jimenez and Yasmani Grandal.
Whitlock proceeded to get ahead in the count against the next batter he faced in Leury Garcia and was just one more strike away from punching out the side.
On an 0-2, 97.7 mph fastball down the heart of the plate, however, Whitlock served up a 430-foot walk-off home run to Garcia to give the White Sox a 2-1 win while also being hit with his fourth loss of the year.
With the 2-1 defeat, the Red Sox fall to 81-64 on the season and move into a virtual tie with the Blue Jaus for the top American League Wild Card spot.
Next up: On to Seattle
The Red Sox will board a flight from Chicago to Seattle and open up a pivotal three-game series against the Mariners — who are also in the thick of the American League Wild Card race — at T-Mobile Park on Monday night.
Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez is slated to get the ball for Boston in the series opener, while rookie right-hander Logan Gilbert is in line to do the same for Seattle.
First pitch Monday is scheduled for 10:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.
(Picture of Nick Pivetta: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)