HOUSTON — In the end there was a meltdown by Astros closer Roberto Osuna, which led to a very good Game 3 winding up a Red Sox blowout. But for six innings when this game was very much in question, Nathan Eovaldi pitched like he had ice water in his veins.
These are highly intense games and those with squeamish stomachs need not be out there. Osuna exhibited those nerves in hitting two batters with pitches and allowing a grand slam to Jackie Bradey Jr. Astros starter Dallas Keuchel also exhibited some ice water when he rebounded nicely from a 2-0 deficit to pitch well enough to keep it a 2-2 game by the time he had left after five innings.
With fellow Alvin, Texas, homey Nolan Ryan looking on right behind home plate, Eovaldi, throwing high 90s but mixing in plenty of his new-found cutter, split-fingered, and breaking ball, pitched with tremendous fortitude in holding back an explosive Astros offense. But Eovaldi made enough pitches in big spots to allow the Red Sox to pull away to an 8-2 win to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and regain home-field advantage that the Sox had given away by losing Game 1 at home.
“It’s a big one,” said Eovaldi. “We were able to score early and that helps your whole mindset going out there. We showed we can play at any ballpark. We were able to come in and perform and win the night.”
After the Sox staked him to a 2-0 lead in the first, Eovaldi did give one back in the bottom of the first. He started out the game by striking out George Springer, but then Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman singled. Two on, two outs, Marwin Gonzalez singled in the first Astros run, but Eovaldi stayed stout and got Josh Reddick to fly out to left to end the inning.
The big thing Eovaldi did was keep the Astros in the ballpark. Oh, Alex Bregman was a pain-in- the-you-know-what with two hits, a walk, and an RBI double to left field in the fifth that tied the game at 2. But while Bregman posted a video of Eovaldi giving up back-to-back-to-back homers in Houston when Eovaldi was pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays, that was not going to happen this time. In fact in Tuesday’s pregame press conference Eovaldi didn’t even acknowledge he knew that Bregman had posted the video. And he did what he said he was going to do — try to get outs using the cutter that he didn’t have when he allowed those homers in a 5-1 loss to the Astros in June.
Eovaldi didn’t have a lot of clean innings. Not against this team. He retired the bottom of the order 1-2-3 in the second inning, but in the third Eovaldi allowed a single and a walk, but got Yuli Gurriel and the dangerous Gonzalez on tough pitches to get out of the jam.
He pitched another 1-2-3 in the fourth against the six, seven, eight hitters, but in the fifth, he had more traffic to navigate as the Astros did some two-out damage to tie the game. Eovaldi walked Jose Altuve, who was the DH, which is not a bad idea. But Bregman, who played a great game defensively and was a pest at the plate, doubled in the run, before Eovaldi bore down again to retire Gurriel on a grounder to shortstop.
He hated the fact that he had given up the tying run, but it was better than giving up a home run with men on base. And when you do that against this team it’s a victory, especially in the playoffs where the Astros are always so competitive.
In the sixth, staked with a 3-2 lead, Eovaldi retired the first two batters, Reddick on a big strikeout to record the second out. Carlos Correa reached on an infield hit, but Brian McCann flew out to Jackie Bradley Jr. in center to end the inning and Eovaldi’s outing.
“I felt they were able to get a lot of runners on base and I had to work around it. I was in some tough situations but I was able to get out of them. I try not to put added pressure on myself. I just do what I try to do. I didn’t have a good fastball or a good cutter tonight but I was able to use my split finger and changeup and did what I needed to do to get through it,” Eovaldi said.
The bottom line was six innings, six hits, two runs, two walks, and four strikeouts. Nothing fancy, just gutsy. He kept his team in the game. In two playoffs starts, he held the Yankees to one run over seven innings and the Astros to two runs over six.
All we can say about the free agent-to-be righthander is cha-ching! He will cash in. With a dearth of good starting pitchers in the free agent market, the Red Sox have to decide whether they will be one of the teams that gets involved in what could be a bidding war with Eovaldi. The Sox have to now compete with the pitching-starved Yankees, who will compete for Eovaldi as will several other teams in the league. Nobody is going to give him crazy money, but he’s likely earned a four-year, $60 million deal at least. He’s also only 28 years old and has put his Tommy John procedure behind him.
What’s striking about Eovaldi is that he’s truly calm on the mound. He doesn’t seem to get rattled by much. The Yankee Stadium crowd was nothing for him to panic about. The raucous crowd here at Minute Maid also didn’t get into his head.
That’s why we say he has ice water in veins. It’s like watching Adam Vinatieri kick field goals in the “Snow Bowl.” Of all the acquisitions Dave Dombrowski made, Eovaldi has to be at the top of the list. The other guy he picked up — Steve Pearce — probably hit the most important home run of the night, the one that made it 3-2 in the sixth inning.
As for his hometown idol Ryan watching from behind the plate, “I never saw him. I’m just trying to focus on what I’m doing. I had a lot of family out here and now that the game is over I can concentrate on them,” Eovaldi said.