For most of his Red Sox tenure, Nate Eovaldi has offered a source of confidence and stability. Even with a mildly concerning vulnerability to homers in 2022, he’d still forged a 3.15 ERA for the Red Sox.
But Tuesday night, Eovaldi’s eighth start of the season came with a shock to the Red Sox and the 27,328 bewildered onlookers at Fenway Park. Eovaldi had a night that mixed history and infamy in alarming fashion in a 13-4 Red Sox loss to the Astros.
With the loss, the Red Sox (14-22) fell 13 games behind the first-place Yankees.
After a lightning five-pitch first inning, Eovaldi dropped a very different five-spot in the second.
The Red Sox righthander faced 11 Astros batters and gave up homers to five, with Eovaldi matching the mark for most homers allowed by a pitcher in a single inning.
“It’s a little bit of disbelief,” rued Eovaldi. “They were just attacking everything. It’s kind of a helpless feeling out there.”
The Red Sox led, 1-0, on Rafael Devers’s first-inning home run, but Astros cleanup hitter Yordan Alvarez initiated the bludgeoning in the second, leading off with a homer just over the Wall against a 98-mile-per-hour fastball. Two batters later, Kyle Tucker turned on a 96-m.p.h. fastball and sent a rocket into the right field bleachers behind the visiting bullpen for a 3-1 lead.
Astros rookie shortstop and Providence native Jeremy Peña, making his first appearance at Fenway, then brought a childhood dream to life by clearing the Green Monster for a solo homer, his seventh of the season.
“It was surreal,” said Peña. “To be home in New England where I grew up and playing at Fenway was a dream come true for every kid around here.”
Three batters later, Michael Brantley hammered a three-run homer into the Red Sox bullpen. After Alvarez hit a two-out single, Yuli Gurriel became the third Houston batter of the inning to clear the Wall. The two-run blast gave the Astros a 9-1 lead and ended Eovaldi’s disastrous outing, with Sox manager Alex Cora summoning Tyler Danish from the bullpen.
The Astros became the eighth team to go deep five times in one inning, a feat that had most recently been achieved by the 2020 Yankees.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker. “It was our day today.”
It was not Eovaldi’s. He joined Toronto’s Chase Anderson (vs. Yankees, 2020) and Milwaukee’s Michael Blazek (vs. Nationals, 2017) as the only pitchers to give up five homers in a single inning.
“I wasn’t locating my pitches very well and I stayed fast with the pitch mix. The fastball, cutter, [and] splitter are all low-90s, mid-90s. The slider was not very good and the curveball, I didn’t throw as many for strikes,” said Eovaldi. “I have to do a better job of mixing my pitches and attacking them differently.”
In a vacuum, the Astros’ eruption would have been disconcerting, but it seemed little short of jarring to the Red Sox given that the night amplified what had already become a problem for Eovaldi.
In 2021, Eovaldi emerged as an All-Star and Cy Young contender by holding opponents to just 15 homers in 182⅓ innings.
In just 41⅔ innings this year, Eovaldi has permitted 14 homers. A pitcher renowned for keeping hitters off balance with his five-pitch arsenal has given up four homers on fastballs, four on cutters, three on sliders, two on curveballs, and one on a split.
That distribution of blasts suggests that Eovaldi’s issues run aren’t confined to a straightforward fix such as one tipped pitch. (Eovaldi said the Sox would break down video to see if he’s tipping but didn’t think that a likely cause of his woes.) Opponents have been taking swings against his entire array of offerings in a way that never occurred last year.
“He works harder than anybody in here,” said catcher Kevin Plawecki. “Stuff like that happens. He’s not perfect. None of us are. I know he’s gonna get back to work, keep working, and be ready to go the next time he’s out there.”
In defeat, the Red Sox offense continued to look like a group on the upswing. Devers crushed a 435-foot solo homer in the first as part of a 3-for-4 game. He now has seven homers and is hitting .333 with a .926 OPS.
J.D. Martinez (3 for 5) drilled a two-run shot in the third and extended his hitting streak to 18 games and his on-base streak to 34 games — both career highs. Both Alex Verdugo and Trevor Story delivered a pair of hits as part of a 13-hit Red Sox attack.
Yet that offense seemed like little more than a squirt gun trying to repel a tidal wave. The Astros added a Tucker grand slam in the fourth inning against Danish. Their sixth homer of the game left Houston with a major league-leading 55 longballs on the year and an MLB-high 15 multi-homer games — contests in which the Astros are 15-0.