Nathan Eovaldi was a savior last postseason, and now Red Sox hope he can be a stopper

John Tomase
March 29, 2019 - 12:07 pm
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When last we saw Nathan Eovaldi, it was 3:29 a.m. in Boston and his teammates were crying.

Eovaldi had just delivered one of the signature losing performances in postseason history, six innings of stellar relief before Dodgers infielder Max Muncy walked him off in the bottom of the 18th inning of the longest World Series game ever played.

The Game 3 setback proved temporary, with the Red Sox claiming the next two games in Los Angeles to clinch their fourth championship since 2004. When it was over, to a man, Eovaldi's teammates saluted his sacrifice not just on that long night, but during a dominating postseason run that saw him post a 1.61 ERA in six appearances, the last four in relief.

"That was the most incredible pitching performance I've ever seen," teammate Rick Porcello said in the aftermath. "After the game was over I started crying because that was -- I mean, he's grinding. Every pitch. He literally gave everything he had on every single pitch and it was special. That's the epitome of reaching down deep."

Eovaldi returns to the mound on Friday in Seattle facing very different stakes. For one, his future is set. The Red Sox took care of that by signing him to a four-year, $68 million extension, an impressive windfall for a pitcher with two Tommy John surgeries under his belt.

For another, it's only Game 2 of 162, not Game 3 of 7. But the Red Sox already find themselves in need of a lift after ace Chris Sale surrendered three home runs in a 12-4 loss on Opening Day.

 Speaking before the opener, Red Sox manager Alex Cora discussed Eovaldi's rise to prominence and the hopes the organization holds for him this season.

"What did he show us last year?" Cora asked. "That stuff-wise, he's up there with the best of the league. The guys is not afraid. He doesn't put too much pressure on himself. He enjoys the game. He's a workaholic in the weight room. He's a great teammate. I'm glad he's back with us."

When the Red Sox shipped promising left-hander Jalen Beeks to the Rays for Eovaldi last June, no one could've predicted the pitcher he'd become. After going 3-4 with a 4.26 ERA in Tampa, Eovaldi started leaning on his power cutter more in Boston, where he went 3-3 with a 3.33 ERA before exploding in the postseason.

"Organizations do things differently and he was having a good season with the Rays and they do things different than us," Cora said. "We just recognized a few things that we feel we can maximize. He did early and then hit a rough spot there against Baltimore if I'm not mistaken and the White Sox. Then after that, we figured it out and then he was great. We're going to stay with that. I think he did pretty good at the end and we can maximize that."

A hallmark of the 2018 Red Sox was their ability to overcome adversity immediately. For that pattern to continue in 2019, it will take consistent efforts from the starters. Eovaldi joins a talented group that includes Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello.

"You've got to ask him that, but I do feel when you're surrounded by greatness, you feed off that," Cora said. "They have a great relationship and they push each other, David and Nate. They clicked right away last year and now Rick is working out with Nate. That's always good. I don't know, people talk about competition. I don't see it that way. I think it's more like they push themselves to be great. We all know they're the key for us and they set the tempo for our team and our organization and I'm looking forward to giving them the ball every five days and see what happens."

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