'Outstanding' Eovaldi delivered for Sox in G6

October 23rd, 2021

HOUSTON -- Time and time again, has come up big when the Red Sox have needed him most in the postseason. His performance in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series was no different.

Facing a win-or-go-home situation at Minute Maid Park on Friday night, Eovaldi lived up to his “Nasty Nate” nickname by showcasing his premium stuff and putting the Red Sox in position for a season-extending victory. But on a night when Boston’s offense once again was mired in a cold streak, Eovaldi’s one run allowed in 4 1/3 innings was too much in a 5-0 loss to the Astros that eliminated the Red Sox from the postseason.

“He was good. Really good,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “Good fastball. Good split. Good breaking ball. In control. Nate was outstanding.”

Part of what made Eovaldi the ideal candidate to start the pivotal Game 6 was his ability to deal with tough situations. During Thursday’s workout at Fenway Park, the right-hander stated that he “loves” pressure and said it brings the best out of him. That was certainly the case on Friday, particularly during a stress-filled fourth inning.

With Boston already trailing 1-0, Eovaldi pitched himself into an unenviable spot, as the Astros put runners at second and third with no outs. The way his offense was going of late, another run allowed by Eovaldi felt like it would be a critical blow. Instead, it turned out to be the perfect opportunity for him to show his mettle.

Eovaldi, the kid from Alvin, Texas, who grew up idolizing Nolan Ryan, summoned his inner “Ryan Express” in that moment. With sluggers Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker up next, he struck out both swinging with some offspeed filth for the first two outs. Following an intentional walk of Yuli Gurriel to load the bases, Eovaldi capped his brilliant escape job with a swinging strikeout of Chas McCormick on a curveball, letting out a huge roar as he walked off the mound.

“I was able to work my way around it,” said Eovaldi. “... It was a big inning for us.

“I was hoping that was going to be the inning to get us back into the game and get us going, but tonight, it just wasn't our night.”

Finishing off his outing in the fifth with a strikeout of Jose Altuve with a 93.3 mph cutter -- his 63th pitch of the game -- Eovaldi proved there was no reason for concern after a demanding relief appearance in Game 4 on Tuesday, during which his velocity appeared to be down and he was unable to keep the game tied in the ninth inning of what turned into a blowout loss.

“Physically, I felt good,” Eovaldi said. “The other night when I came in in the ninth inning, I was doing too much. I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to be doing that today. I wanted to make sure I was executing my pitches, and I felt like we had a good plan coming in.”

Eovaldi will have a better chance to put his personal success in 2021 into perspective as the winter rolls along. Asked about it on Friday, though, the common theme he reflected on was health. For so long, that’s been the one obstacle blocking him from truly reaching the full potential of his capabilities.

Finally able to maintain his health this year -- his 32 games started were tied for most in the AL -- Eovaldi put together one of the top campaigns of his career. Earning his first All-Star selection at age 31, Eovaldi anchored Boston’s rotation, going 11-9 with a 3.75 ERA while striking out a career-high 195 batters and walking just 35 in 182 1/3 regular-season innings.

“For me, it's being able to stay healthy,” Eovaldi said. “A big thank you to our training staff. They've been unbelievable for us this year and taking care of me. Our coaching staff, knowing when to take me out of games; I'm not the best in saying when I'm done or when I'm ready to come out of games.

“Everything I was able to accomplish, it's thanks to them. It's having [Christian Vázquez] and [Kevin] Plawecki behind the plate, and [Connor] Wong as well, and being able to work in between each start. If I had a bad game, I was able to figure out what we were doing wrong and we were able to right the way and be able to come back out the next start and have a quality start.”