LOS ANGELES — The first thing I want to say about Eduardo Nunez is he’s very entertaining.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora even inserted him into Game 3 as a pinch-hitter for Rafael Devers in the 10th inning with a righthander on the mound. Why? Because Nunez has a proven flair for the dramatic. And Cora said he liked the matchup against Pedro Baez.
Amazingly, Nunez was back in the starting lineup for Game 4 Saturday night after his Game 3 adventures, even though there has to be something wrong with his right leg. He suffered an ankle injury against the Yankees late in the regular season, which may be adding to his difficulties now. Cora indicated he thought the current issue is a result of the ankle injury, and not a knee injury suffered last year.
But even before his current issues, Nunez had a noticeable weakness in his right leg, knee, ankle, somewhere on that side. That weakness goes back to last season when his knee kept buckling on him. The Red Sox waited later into free agency to offer him a one-year deal, with an option for 2019 for $6 million. His knee buckled in the first at-bat vs. Houston in the AL Division Series last season and he was lost for the series.
Cora loves Nunez and there’s a lot to love. He came off the bench and hit a game-sealing three-run homer against Alex Wood in Game 1 on a night when he was a little ticked off he didn’t start at third base over Devers. Cora told him to be ready because there might be a situation late in the game where he could help win a game. Sure enough, Nunez produced.
And in Friday’s 18-inning affair, here came Nunez.
In that 10th-inning at-bat, he hit a medium fly ball to center on which Ian Kinsler should have scored the go-ahead run, but was thrown out because he was slow to the plate.
In the 13th, Nunez’s leg buckled when catcher Austin Barnes upended him going for an errant pitch. Nunez just laid there at the plate for the longest time and had to collect himself and run around to test the leg.
“Well, actually after the dirt ball, when the catcher ran over him, he felt he was in bad shape,” Cora said. “But like I told him, he’s like, ‘I’m not coming out.’ I said, ‘Well, you can’t come out. We have no more players.’ ”
He played a role in the fateful bottom half of the 13th as well, diving into the first row of seats after catching Cody Bellinger’s popup that allowed Max Muncy to advance to second base. One batter later, Kinsler’s error allowed Muncy to score the tying run. And then Nunez had an infield single in the top of the 15th, again flopping to the ground as if he’d been shot. He advanced to second but was thrown out at third on Christian Vazquez’s bunt on a great play by pitcher Kenta Maeda. If Nunez is healthy, does he beat that throw to third? Cora thought so.
Then Cora stumbled on the pitcher’s mound while trying to catch a popup in the 16th.
Flair for the dramatic. That’s Nunez, which is why Cora loves to get him in the lineup at big times.
In the end, Nunez summed it up best, “We have two more games to go, and I think we have three more months to recover.”
Cora had a smile on his face when asked about Nunez.
Cora said about Nunez pinch-hitting for Devers even with a righthander Baez on the mound, “It was more about the matchup. We know Baez against lefties has been good, and actually like [Friday] for the first time in a while, Raffy, the game kind of sped up on him. He was chasing pitches up in the zone. And you could see he was frustrated.
“So we were looking for somebody to make contact in that situation. As you know, Eduardo will make contact way up there or way down there. So we got a fly ball and Bellinger made a good throw [to nail Kinsler at the plate] and it didn’t work out.
“There’s a lot of guys a little banged up, but they grind it out,” Cora said. “This is what I signed in for, that effort, from pitch one all the way to the end. Sign me in, it’s cool.”
Nunez is a gutsy guy doing what he’s done on a bum leg. Cora always expects Nunez will do something big. We’ll see if Nunez can make it happen in the team’s quest for a World Series title. It will, at least, be entertaining.