The Red Sox thought they had made the perfect call in asking Nate Eovaldi to preserve a 2-2 tie in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS Tuesday.
Then Carlos Correa, Jason Castro, and Laz Diaz started to ruin the party.
Red Sox reliever Martín Pérez applied the final ugly touches.
Correa, arguably the most dangerous hitter in the Astros’ dangerous lineup, led off, and Eovaldi met Correa’s thunder with his own fire. Correa fouled off a 96-mile-per-hour strike, sat out a high slider, then ignored a 100-m.p.h. fastball that Eovaldi misfired low and away.
The righthander followed with a 99-m.p.h. fastball that was away but belt-high, and Correa slashed a tone-setting double to right.
“I could feel like I was a little antsy, getting down the mound a little bit too fast,” said Eovaldi. “I tried to make a good pitch, and he put a great swing on it, and got a double off it.
“And then after that, I kind of settled in and I knew I had to really lock it in, try to prevent them from scoring, and I felt like after that I was spotting up pretty well.”
Spotting up pretty well and getting plate umpire Diaz to agree on those spots was a matter of dispute that began long before Eovaldi got involved. Red Sox manager Alex Cora nearly got tossed for arguing a called third strike on J.D. Martinez in the third inning.
The meet-up between Eovaldi and Diaz took a couple batters after Correa to evolve.
Eovaldi struck out the next batter, Kyle Tucker, on three pitches, the third one a splitter, and after an intentional walk of Yuri Gurriel, Eovaldi struck out pinch hitter Aledmys Diaz on another splitter.
The shaky start with Correa seemed to be a hiccup that would not come back to haunt Eovaldi, and the crowd was fired up.
Sure, there were two runners on, one in scoring position, but Eovaldi was settling in, or spotting up, as he said.
He started Castro off bravely, with a curveball that fell squarely in the middle of the strike zone.
A fastball missed, then Castro fouled off another fastball.
With the count at 2 and 1, Eovaldi threw another curveball. This one was high but it caught the corner of the strike zone. Diaz saw it as a ball, a decision that seemed to stun Eovaldi, whose momentum after the pitch carried him toward the Red Sox dugout.
Eovaldi had to stop, however, and return to the mound. One foul ball later, Castro slashed another splitter for a single that scored Correa and gave the Astros the 3-2 lead.
“I thought it was a strike, but again, I’m in the moment,” said Eovaldi. “I had two strikeouts, and then facing Castro I felt like I was in control of the at-bat. I felt like I made a good pitch on the outside corner and it didn’t go my way.
“But I’ve got to come back and I’ve got to answer back and make another good pitch. I threw a fastball and he fouled it off and I went with the splitter. I had a good feel for it tonight and he put a good swing on it and got a base hit.”
Cora was more diplomatic about the Eovaldi ball than the strike on Martinez.
“I’ve got to take a look [at the video],” said Cora. “A lot of people thought it was a strike.”
Eovaldi faced one more batter, Jose Altuve, and walked him.
That was it for Eovaldi. The Astros had the lead, but it was only a run.
Enter Pérez, who kicked the shim out from under the floodgates and swung them wide open.
Michael Brantley jumped all over a first-pitch fastball, pummeling it for a three-run double that sucked the remaining faith, zest, and volume from the Fenway fans.
Pérez was not through. After an intentional walk to Alex Bregman, the ninth hitter of the inning, Yordan Alvarez hit an RBI single. He was followed by Correa, who again caused trouble.
Correa hit a slow roller up the third base line that Pérez raced after and slung to first base. The throw squeezed between first baseman Kyle Schwarber’s glove and Correa’s body. Pérez’s throwing error brought in the sixth run of the inning.
There was still a bit of carnage left.
Tucker, Eovaldi’s earlier strikeout victim, singled in the final run before Pérez collected the third out.
Astros manager Dusty Baker was pretty pumped.
“That was a huge base hit by Castro to give us the lead, but we knew with this team that we’re playing we wanted to pad the lead, and pad the lead we did,” said Baker. “That one run might not have stood up, especially in this ballpark.”
Baker’s hypothesis was never tested.
After Correa, Castro, and Diaz got that one questionably earned run across, Pérez’s appearance led to the outburst that quashed all walkoff-ending hopes for the Red Sox.
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