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Keeping Eovaldi is top priority for Red Sox, fans

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BOSTON -- Ask Red Sox manager Alex Cora for his most indelible memory of the World Series and he instantly flashes back to the team's only loss to the Dodgers.

Cora loved that 18-inning epic in Game 3 so much that he recently went back and watched all 97 pitches that Nathan Eovaldi threw that night, ending with the one misfire that Max Muncy belted over the wall for a walk-off homer.

BOSTON -- Ask Red Sox manager Alex Cora for his most indelible memory of the World Series and he instantly flashes back to the team's only loss to the Dodgers.

Cora loved that 18-inning epic in Game 3 so much that he recently went back and watched all 97 pitches that Nathan Eovaldi threw that night, ending with the one misfire that Max Muncy belted over the wall for a walk-off homer.

For a loss to represent the heart of a champion so well is unusual, for sure. And now Boston can only hope it doesn't lose Eovaldi.

The flame-throwing righty is a free agent, and of all those on the market, he's the one the Red Sox seem to be prioritizing.

Eovaldi is also Red Sox Nation's top choice. At the premiere of the World Series documentary on Monday night in Boston, when team president Sam Kennedy and Cora mentioned Eovaldi's name before the movie started, fans yelled enthusiastically for Boston to find a way to keep him.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski will have to lead that quest. He generally doesn't say much publicly regarding which individuals he would like to bring back. The little he did say about Eovaldi was a pretty good indication that the starting pitcher, who doubled as a reliever at times during the playoffs, is someone the Red Sox badly want to see return.

"He's a guy that we'd love to keep," Dombrowski said. "We've talked about that, but he's got a lot of choices at this time. I don't think we're in a position where we have to keep anybody in particular. You like to keep people by all means because you like to keep guys together, and we had a good club."

The Red Sox were more than just a good club last season, winning a franchise-record 108 games and going 11-3 in the postseason.

Video: WS2018 Gm3: Eovaldi goes 6-plus in admirable outing

Repeating that level of success is going to be tough no matter what, but the glass would certainly look fuller in that quest with the return of Eovaldi, who would be tough to replace in a market that isn't stacked with impact starting pitchers.

While the Red Sox also have two significant relievers up for free agency in perennial All-Star Craig Kimbrel and postseason star Joe Kelly, there is at least a meaty supply of bullpen arms available in free agency.

Put Eovaldi in a rotation that also includes Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez, and the Red Sox would have a stacked deck of starters.

Boston's competitors will try to weaken the Red Sox by taking Eovaldi out of the mix. The Astros, a team that Eovaldi was instrumental in eliminating during the American League Championship Series, are one of the teams said to be contending for his services. Eovaldi hails from Alvin, Texas, and Houston would certainly be a comfortable living space for him. The Phillies, Yankees, Braves, Brewers, Angels, White Sox, Blue Jays, Giants and Padres are other teams who have been linked to Eovaldi.

If all things are relatively equal monetarily, the Red Sox do have an advantage in that Eovaldi loved his time in Boston after being acquired in a July trade from the Rays. His teammates gave him the ultimate show of gratitude following his heroic loss in Game 3, waiting for him when he walked off the field and starting a hug fest that went on down the line.

And like nearly everyone who played for the 2018 Red Sox, Eovaldi quickly became comfortable with Cora.

The postseason run Eovaldi is coming off (1.61 ERA, .185 opponents batting average) could be a springboard for him to reach a place he's never gotten to in his career. He turns 29 years old the day Boston holds its first pitchers and catchers workout in Spring Training. The hope is that Eovaldi is in Fort Myers, Fla., to blow out his birthday candles.

"He's a gamechanger," Cora said. "We know the stuff he has. Actually, he went through the process of mixing up his pitches, attacking guys in different spots. There are a lot of teams [after] him, but hopefully, it happens and he's part of this."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Nathan Eovaldi