It was an aesthetic atrocity in slow motion, a 354-minute exercise that seemed inescapable. Inning after inning, minute after minute, hour after hour, the Red Sox and Giants played on through the Boston night, two teams featuring woeful September offenses that could not deliver the hit that would tilt the balance decisively.
And so it was that the bullpens churned in historic fashion. The Red Sox summoned 11 pitchers, while the Giants matched a major league record by employing 13. The combined entry of 24 likewise matched a big league record that had been achieved just once before, in a Rockies-Dodgers contest in 2015.
When it was over, finally, the Giants’ 7-6, 15-inning win over the Red Sox was mostly a blur with a few distinct flashes. The night will be remembered for the home run hit by Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski in his first big league game at the ballpark where he grew up and where his grandfather forged a legend. Yet that memorable blast came 11 innings and hours before the game was decided in a fashion befitting the Red Sox’ 2019 campaign — a season-long whimper with no bang.
“If you can [summarize] our season in six hours, [it was] right there, honestly,” sighed Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who ticked off the shortcoming his team displayed: The absence of a hit with runners in scoring position; the poor start followed by an impressive rescue mission by the bullpen that proved just a bit too big of an ask; defense that was alternately sterling and then flawed. “It’s been like that the whole season. That’s how I felt.”
Yet while the game served as an emblem of the misshapen 2019 season, perhaps the bigger issue to emerge was whether the unresolved struggles of Nate Eovaldi now cast a shadow over the 2020 campaign.
For the second time in three weeks, Eovaldi lasted just four innings in a game that ultimately lasted 15 innings. Over 86 pitches, he allowed five runs on seven hits, including a pair of homers, while walking three and striking out six. In 10 starts this year, he has a 6.09 ERA; among the 171 pitchers who have made at least 10 starts this year, that ranks 151st.
It has been a significant disappointment for a pitcher who showed the stuff of an ace in 2018, when Eovaldi stood as the most dominant arm in October. In 2019, he has been plagued by both injuries and ineffectiveness, in a way that has led to jarring results.
Eovaldi still lights up the radar gun, unleashing comets that sometimes reach triple digits, while periodically snapping off curveballs and splitters that make hitters look foolish. At times he flashes the electric stuff that allowed him to dominate in the 2018 postseason and convinced the Sox to sign him to a four-year, $68 million extension.
But this year, Eovaldi’s margin for error — particularly with his high-octane fastball — has proven extremely thin, with hitters blasting 2.6 homers per nine innings against him as a starter. Including the two he allowed Tuesday — one by Brandon Belt in the first inning, one by Yastrzemski in the fourth — he has allowed seven homers on fastballs, three more than he permitted in roughly twice as many innings last season. His fastball has found the middle and lower third of the strike zone with greater frequency this season, with poor results following.
“We have to get him to pitch up in the zone again,” said Cora. “We live in an era that if you pitch [down in the zone], the guys are going to catch up regardless of whether you’re throwing 100 or 91.”
Yet the issues appear to be more far-reaching. Eovaldi threw just five splitters and no sliders, and he missed the strike zone with 10 of his 13 cutters — essentially reducing him to a two-pitch hurler (fastball/curveball) rather than the five-pitch source of bewilderment last year.
The 29-year-old insisted that he’s fine physically. But if so, his late-season performance raises questions about whether he will reemerge as a reliable mid-rotation starter in 2020.
“We’ll get it right, we’ll finish on a positive note, and he’ll be ready for the offseason to work on the things that he has to work,” said Cora. “He’s a guy that is very important for us in the coming years.”
This year, however, when Eovaldi has been in games, he’s been a nonfactor. Somehow, he has recorded no-decisions in each of his 10 starts — the longest such streak in Red Sox history.
Outing after outing, his performances have become footnotes to the final outcome. That pattern held true in the marathon loss to the Giants.
After Eovaldi departed with the Sox trailing, 5-1, his teammates worked their way back. Jackie Bradley Jr.’s solo homer (his 19th) off San Francisco starter Logan Webb in the fifth inning brought the Sox within three, and Boston tacked on three runs in the sixth.
Sam Travis, batting for J.D. Martinez (who left with tightness in his right groin and is now day-to-day), led off the inning with a triple to right, though it came at a scary cost. Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford unleashed a relay throw that clanked off the back of Travis’s head, after his helmet had flown off in his 270-foot sprint. Though Travis was able to get up, he left the game in favor of pinch runner Gorkys Hernandez and is now being monitored according to MLB’s concussion protocol.
Hernandez trotted across the plate on a Mitch Moreland double to left, and Christian Vazquez drove in Moreland with a ground-rule double down the right-field line. Vazquez eventually scampered home and tied the game, 5-5, on a passed ball.
The game remained deadlocked, with both sides held scoreless through the 12th inning. When the Giants finally broke through with a run in the 13th, the Red Sox quickly answered with one of their own when Giants righty Kyle Barraclough issued a bases-loaded walk to pinch hitter Juan Centeno in the bottom of the inning.
Finally, the Giants forged the decisive run in the 15th inning against the 11th Red Sox pitcher of the night, Trevor Kelley. Donovan Solano blooped a ground-rule double down the right-field line, moved to third on a wild pitch, and scored on an Alex Dickerson sac fly. Dereck Rodriguez, who’d entered in the 14th inning, then delivered a second straight scoreless frame to close out the win.
The loss dropped the Sox to 79-71 on the season and a puzzling 36-38 at Fenway, one of many riddles that has kept Cora and his team vexed for the better part of six months.