Bradford: Nathan Eovaldi made a few people look pretty smart

Rob Bradford
October 09, 2018 - 1:14 am

USA Today Sports

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NEW YORK -- It has been too easy to say this Nathan Eovaldi thing was a mistake.

While the Red Sox have been thirsting for bullpen help, having had to lay in the bed Dave Dombrowski made them at the trade deadlines, there was Eovaldi. 

He had left a great first impression. A really bad one for the next few weeks. And, finally, something palatable in his final few starts to make a postseason appearance acceptable in the eyes of those deconstructing what the Red Sox might be working with in their American League Division Series against the Yankees. According to Dombrowski, the pitcher had been the priority. But through it all, it was an existence that didn't seem like it should be prioritized.

Well, as Dombrowski wheeled his bag toward the bus following the Red Sox' 16-1, Game 3 win over the Yankees, he would have been in his rights to offer one last chuckle. It could have been his last laugh. Thanks to Eovaldi's night, the president of baseball operations probably deserved it.

"Starting Game 3 in New York, we thought he could handle those situations. We talked a lot about him," Dombrowski told WEEI.com. "We didn’t know we would play the Yankees but he had pitched in New York before so he had been part of a playoff-type of atmosphere. He always handled it. Our review on his makeup for anybody we talked to was that he was a solid guy who didn’t get shaken by any situation. We felt comfortable he could handle it."

They figured right.

The pitcher who conducts virtually every interview in a Red Sox t-shirt and dress pants, while offering little in the way of an elevated decibel level, offered ace-like stuff against the Yankees. The biggest game brought the biggest performance. The intestinal fortitude matched the 100 mph fastball and a wipeout slider. Seven innings. One run. Five hits Five Strikeouts. No walks. And a defining moment for himself, the guy who traded for him and the manager and coaches who decided this was the right guy at the right time.

"The overall success he’s had against (the Yankees) this year. Power stuff. Regardless if it was Nate or Rick (Porcello), we trusted them. We trust both of them. We felt it was a perfect time for him to pitch this time," said Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie. He added, "First playoff game, but he’s the same guy regardless of who he’s facing. In control. The atmosphere makes no difference. That’s the way he is. His ability to communicate in between innings, during warmups, whatever it is. He’s comfortable where he’s at. ... I think any time going into a game there are nerves about everything. I’m sure he had them too. You just think about the stuff, the success he’s had against them this year. It’s a perfect scenario."

The debate about the deadline might rage on, and that's fair.

We still don't know if the Red Sox have enough in the bullpen for the long haul, and certainly, the lack of activity at trading-time when it came to getting relief help continues to seem uncomfortable. But now the Red Sox have this performance from Eovaldi, it's fair to ask if he actually should have been at the top of the to-do list.

Who knows if he can repeat it against the Astros if the Red Sox advance. And perhaps this is largely a product of the match-up that the Yankees offered. But it is what it is. 

Dombrowski traded for a guy who stepped on the Yankee Stadium mound with the season on the line, shut down baseball's most powerful lineup and shut up an overly-confident Bronx crowd. It's hard to imagine that wasn't worth Jalen Beeks.

"I keep going back with this whole thing, ‘Who do you want? You want (Mets ace Jacob) deGrom?’ ‘Yeah.’ But okay, if he’s not available, then you go after the second-best stuff available," LeVangie said. "Nate was the guy: Power stuff, maybe he doesn’t get the swing and misses, but it will sure play against everybody if we just get him to throw the right way. It’s a great matchup for him."

He hit 101 mph, got 17 swings and misses on eight of his 14 sliders and finished his 2018 against the Yankees (while pitching in a Red Sox uniform) with a 0.39 ERA in 23 innings. 

That seems like a pitcher we can now say is worth prioritizing.

As Cora summed it up after the game, "He was just being Nate."

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