This is how it should be for the biggest game of the season. Ace vs. ace. An All-Star against an All-Star. Your best taking on their best.
The Yankees and Red Sox aren’t being evasive about their pitching plans for the American League Wild Card Game on Tuesday night. It’ll be Gerrit Cole against Nate Eovaldi.
“It feels good,” Sox manager Alex Cora said Monday. “Those two guys, they’ve been great. I think for baseball it’ll be great to see those guys going at it.
“As a manager it’s a lot easier going this way than trying to map it out for 27 outs and hope for the best.”
Cole embraces the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry to a point where he snubbed Red Sox players during the two days of All-Star Game festivities in Denver in July.
A microphone caught J.D. Martinez telling Toronto star Vladimir Guerrero Jr. that Cole kept on walking when the Red Sox players said hello to him.
“I don’t recall having a ton of conversations with them. We were on opposite sides of the clubhouse,” Cole said. “Certainly don’t remember some of the exchanges that have been reported.”
Eovaldi, who pitched for the Yankees from 2015-16, doesn’t share that level of frostiness. But he understands what this game means.
“It comes down to one game. It’s not best-of-five or best-of-seven. You need guys you can rely on,” Eovaldi said. “It’s do-or-die out there. You’ve got to win this game to move on.”
There won’t be any secrets. Eovaldi faced the Yankees six times during the regular season, going 2-2 with a 3.71 earned run average.
Eovaldi’s first five starts against the Yankees were strong; he went at least five innings and allowed one or two runs each time. But he lasted only 2⅔ innings at Fenway on Sept. 24, giving up seven runs on seven hits including a three-run homer by Giancarlo Stanton.
“I feel like one of the best things I’ve been able to do is rebound after a bad start,” Eovaldi said. “The last time I faced these guys I was a little too mechanical and falling behind in some counts.”
Eovaldi has corrected those issues since, throwing six shutout innings against the Orioles in his last start of the regular season.
“I’m excited to redeem myself,” he said.
Since joining the Red Sox in 2018, Eovaldi is 3-3 with a 3.36 ERA in 11 starts against the Yankees with a 1.09 WHIP.
“Nate’s got some magic, man. He’s a high-stakes performer, obviously,” Cole said. “That’s why he got that contract and why they wanted to keep him around, that incredible postseason run that he made for them and selflessly pitching in huge spots.
“I respect anybody that does what I do and takes the ball every time and sells out for it. It’s pretty magnificent to watch him go out there and replicate that kind of velocity and all those different pitches all the time. I’m a fan of Nate.”
Cole is 2-2 with a 4.91 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox this season. He beat Eovaldi in that Sept. 24 game, allowing three runs over six innings. Cole is 3-2 with a 4.03 ERA in five career starts against the Sox since the Yankees signed him to a nine-year, $324 million deal.
Cole has the edge in postseason experience having appeared in 13 postseason games with the Pirates, Astros, and Yankees since 2013. He’s 8-4 with a 2.68 ERA.
Eovaldi has six games of playoff experience, all in 2018 with the Sox. He was 2-1 with a 1.61 ERA and the Sox were 5-1 in the games he appeared in.
The loss came in Game 3 of the World Series when Eovaldi came out of the bullpen in the 12th inning and allowed one earned run over six innings and 97 pitches.
That Max Muncy hit his final pitch for a game-winning homer didn’t detract from how incredibly Eovaldi pitched.
The Red Sox rewarded Eovaldi with a four-year, $68 million contract extension. Tuesday will be his first playoff game since that epic night at Dodger Stadium.
“I’ll draw from that experience,” he said.
The Reds Sox and Yankees met in a one-game playoff to decide the East Division title at Fenway on Oct. 2, 1978.
Dennis Eckersley won 20 games for the Sox that season but wasn’t available to face the Yankees having pitched nine innings two days before.
The Sox turned to Mike Torrez, their third-best starter.
Ron Guidry, who won the Cy Young Award that season, started for the Yankees. He pitched into the seventh inning and allowed two runs.
Torrez also got into the seventh but gave up four runs including the infamous three-run homer by Bucky Dent.
Now, 43 years later, it’ll be Cole vs. Eovaldi.
“Everything you could hope for,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.