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LOS ANGELES — With one mistake pitch, Nathan Eovaldi lost a game. But he may have won the Red Sox a World Series.
Ask yourself this: Was there any moment bigger, any stretch more important, any effort more significant than what Eovaldi did in Game 3 Friday night in Los Angeles? Yes, Steve Pearce was a deserving MVP for his eight RBIs on four World Series hits, and yes, David Price was an equally deserving candidate for his two victories, including the clincher, and one relief appearance.
But if there is an award for MVM (most valuable moment), give that to Eovaldi. It was his Herculean effort in the 18-inning marathon loss that reverberated most strongly across a locker room positively thrumming under the bonds of fraternity, a touchstone in the series to remind these already close-knit players just how much they were willing to do for each other.
Six-plus innings in relief. Ninety-seven pitches out of the pen. Hundred-mile-an-hour fastballs until the very end, from an arm with an elbow ligament twice repaired by Tommy John surgery.
It was as strong a testament to stamina, courage, and guts as any of his teammates had ever seen on a baseball field, the definition of putting team above self, from a guy who’d only joined the team at the trade deadline. It served as both inspiration and incentive to everyone around him to replace the utter unfairness of his being tagged with a loss with the absolute joy of winning a championship.
They felt like they owed him, and they went out and delivered.
“What Nathan did, that just . . . we didn’t even feel like we lost that game because of what he went out there and did,” Rick Porcello said on the Dodger Stadium field following Sunday night’s 5-1 championship-clinching win, two nights after Eovaldi had surrendered a walkoff home run to Max Muncy.
Turns out we had it all wrong after Muncy’s hit. Where we thought we’d find a shellshocked team staggering in the rubble of a devastating loss, we found a group of comrades steeled by resolve and ready for more. Where we thought we’d find a manager stewing in the regret of lost opportunity, we found a leader moved by his players’ effort, spurred to gather his troops.
Alex Cora isn’t much for team meetings, but he called a short one in the clubhouse following the seven-hour, 20-minute game. He told his players how proud he was of them. He singled out Eovaldi. The room stood up and applauded. Porcello wiped away tears. They would not be his last.
“Tonight we got that final out and kind of let it all come pouring out,” Porcello said Sunday. “I’m sorry. I can’t stop crying. It’s just so cool.”
The performance drew praise from all corners. There was reliever Joe Kelly, another of the unsung heroes of this championship, pulling his aching body out of bed Saturday morning and chastising himself for even thinking he was sore.
“I thought about Nate,” Kelly said later, “and Nate’s probably even more sore. Just try to get some momentum off that guy and come in the game, thinking to myself, ‘If I could pitch half as good as Nate, it might go well.’
“He grinded out there. And that was very, very impressive. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen it on a baseball field before. It was awesome.”
Eovaldi was the talk of the Series.
From Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw: “You don’t have to be an expert to appreciate that. It was really, really impressive. Just pitching in Games 1 and 2, one day off. I know he’s pitched in the bullpen some, but he’s basically a starter this year. So to do that, it’s incredible.
“I played with Nate over here for a little bit [2011 and ’12], and he’s just freakishly strong. Obviously has an incredible arm. But just to be able to do that says a lot about him. It’s really impressive.”
From Dodgers manager Dave Roberts: “I appreciate everything about what he did. I’m on the other side, but I’m a baseball fan, I’m a sports fan. And when you see people like that perform at the highest level and to stay focused, appreciating that that was three out of four [games] for him, to go 90-plus pitches, hold his stuff, use his mix and take three at-bats, I think, last night and still keep going and give his team a chance to win, those are moments that don’t come by very often.”
From his own manager, Cora: “Effort-wise, I don’t know, World Series, that was one of the best performances probably in the history of the World Series. I told him how proud I was of him. The effort was amazing . . . probably one of the best, if not the best, game I’ve ever been a part of. The effort from both sides. What Nate did tonight, that was amazing. That was amazing.”
And from his teammates too.
Chris Sale: “That was nothing short of incredible. I don’t know if there’s anybody that’s ever done what he’s done, given the scenario. We’re in Game 1, Game 2, and Game 3 of the World Series, freezing cold weather in Boston, worse the second night than the first night. And then we have a six-hour travel day, where there’s not a whole lot of movement.
“And then he threw seven innings in the most high-leverage game of the year. Check the book, I don’t know, but that’s incredible by any standard. I don’t care who you are, what you’ve seen, that’s impressive.”
Jackie Bradley Jr.: “Can’t put it into words. Tremendous. Amazing. Spectacular. I want him on my side 10 out of 10 times. Nothing but love. Nothing but love. That was pretty special, for him to be able to put up zero after zero after zero on the board. He wasn’t even scheduled to pitch. But we had that all-hands-on-deck mentality, and unbelievable. Unbelievable.”
Ian Kinsler, whose earlier error had cost Eovaldi the win: “He picked us up so big, he picked me up after that play. Working that late into the game and that many pitches, it’s extremely impressive.”
And from Porcello: “The most incredible pitching performance I’ve ever seen.”
The only one who didn’t seem so impressed? The man himself.
“Everybody had my back and my support tonight, that means a lot to me as a player,” Eovaldi said after the game, standing on the field until the last question was asked. “That’s pretty much all you can ask for is your teammates have your back. It’s special.”
The cap and spikes Eovaldi wore are on their way to Cooperstown, a fitting Hall of Fame home for a forever hall of fame moment.