FORT MYERS, Fla. — The third game of the 2018 World Series changed Nathan Eovaldi’s life forever.
In one fateful night, the little-known righty from Texas became a hardball legend of almost mythic proportion. With the whole world watching and no one left in the Red Sox bullpen, Eovaldi morphed into Sidd Finch, Nuke LaLoosh, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
And it all happened on a night/morning in which he wound up being the losing pitcher.
Eovaldi worked out of the bullpen for the Red Sox in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series at Fenway Park. He was scheduled to be Alex Cora’s Game 4 starter on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, but the Sox got into an extra-inning duel with the Dodgers in Game 3, and Eovaldi was summoned with the score tied, 1-1, in the bottom of the 12th.
He looked like he would be the winning pitcher when the Sox scored a run in the top of the 13th, but Ian Kinsler’s throwing error led to an unearned run in the bottom of the 13th, so on it went.
Like a strong and silent lunch-pail-toting factory worker, Eovaldi came back out for the 14th. And the 15th. And the 16th. And the 17th. It was still 2-2 and almost 3:30 a.m. back in Boston when Eovaldi came out for the bottom of the 18th and surrendered a leadoff homer to Max Muncy. It was Eovaldi’s 97th pitch in six-plus innings of relief.
In the somber moments after the game, fellow Sox starter Rick Porcello openly wept over Eovaldi’s demonstration of team above self.
Sleepy Red Sox Nation had the same reaction. And the Legend of Nathan Eovaldi was established. His World Series heroics (1.13 ERA in three appearances) earned him a permanent place in Sox postseason lore alongside Bernie Carbo, Dave Roberts, and David Ortiz. Then he was rewarded with a four-year, $67.5 million contract.
Not bad for a guy with two Tommy John surgeries and a 44-53 career record. Not bad for a big league journeyman (Dodgers, Marlins, Yankees, Rays) who was acquired from Tampa Bay last summer for the immortal Jalen Beeks.
Cora still hasn’t gotten over it. None of the Sox have gotten over it. In many ways, the Game 3 World Series loss was the highlight of the Red Sox’ 119-win championship season. It galvanized and inspired the clubhouse. There was no beating the Red Sox after that. And all because of Nathan Eovaldi.
“What he did in the postseason isn’t easy to do,’’ Cora said Wednesday before Eovaldi threw three innings of one-hit ball in a 9-5 loss to the Twins, his 2019 spring training debut at JetBlue Park. “But physically everybody knows he’s one of the best athletes we have on our roster.
“He was able to do all those cool things in October because physically he was ready to go. Stuffwise, in October, I do feel he was the best out of all the teams.’’
Eovaldi looked good Wednesday, throwing two 99-mile-per-hour four-seamers to the first batter he faced, former Astro Marwin Gonzalez. Eovaldi faced the minimum six batters in the first two innings, then surrendered a homer over the faux Monster to Byron Buxton on a 1-and-1 pitch (front-door cutter) leading off the third. Eovaldi threw 41 pitches over his three innings, 24 for strikes. He walked one and struck out one.
“I felt really good out there,’’ said the soft-spoken 29-year-old. “I threw a lot of first-pitch strikes. I wanted to work on my splitter and my curveball today and I was able to do that. I’m just trying to work on consistency, work on my mechanics out there, and repeat good pitches.
‘’I went back down to the bullpen after I came out and threw 15 more pitches down there. My arm feels good, my body feels good. I’m just training to repeat those mechanics as much as I can in a game.’’
The Red Sox have what should be the best starting rotation in baseball. Porcello and David Price are past Cy Young winners, and Chris Sale, when healthy, is probably the best starter in the game. Those three plus Eovaldi pitched 79 postseason innings in 2018, compiling a 3.09 ERA over 13 starts and nine relief appearances.
All were held back this spring because of the October workload, but now we’ve finally seen them all pitch in a game, and it looks good for the Olde Towne Team.
Eovaldi feels the love coming from Boston.
“We had communications throughout the offseason,’’ he said. “I felt like they wanted me to come back, and I wanted to come back, and we were able to make that work. It’s with the goal in mind to get back to the World Series, and I think we’re taking those steps now to be able to do that.
“Being here with the guys again, I’m ready for the start of the season.’’
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at email@example.com