BOSTON -- Rick Porcello set the bar pretty high for Nathan Eovaldi on Friday night, but Boston's new power right-hander almost reached it with a worthy Saturday encore that once again completely shut down the Yankees.Behind Eovaldi's mastery (eight shutout innings, three hits), the Red Sox came through with a
BOSTON -- Rick Porcello set the bar pretty high for Nathan Eovaldi on Friday night, but Boston's new power right-hander almost reached it with a worthy Saturday encore that once again completely shut down the Yankees.
Behind Eovaldi's mastery (eight shutout innings, three hits), the Red Sox came through with a 4-1 victory at Fenway Park that opened up a whopping 8 1/2-game lead over their slumping rivals in the American League East.
"Absolutely, I feel like we all feed off one another," said Eovaldi. "Again, it started with [Mitch Moreland] hitting the home run in the beginning of the game. And then Rick last night with his performance -- you want to repeat that and go out there and get the guys back in the dugout as fast as possible and keep them on the ropes."
Boston (78-34) will go for the four-game rivalry sweep on Sunday night, when lefty David Price takes the mound.
"We won the series," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "We've got a chance to sweep the series, but whenever we play somebody, we're looking to win the series, and we did already."
The Red Sox cruised all day until closer Craig Kimbrel got himself into trouble in the ninth. After giving up a run, Kimbrel worked out of a bases-loaded jam to end it.
Eovaldi's first impression with his new team has been about as good as possible. He hasn't allowed a run over 15 innings in his first two starts for the Sox. The last time a starting pitcher was unscored upon in his first two starts for Boston? Vaughn Eshelman, who did it in 1995.
In more current events, the Red Sox have piled two pitching masterpieces on top of one another. Porcello fired a complete-game one-hitter on Friday night, facing just one batter over the minimum and throwing 86 pitches.
"Outstanding," Cora said of Eovaldi. "His stuff is probably some of the best in the big leagues. The fact that he can use his stuff on the edges of the strike zone is impressive. There was some traffic and he kept the ball down, he got the ground-ball double play. He was able to expand up, use his breaking ball, front-door cutter, and that was another great outing by Nate."
Eovaldi faced two over the minimum in his eight innings, walking one and striking out four while inducing two double plays. He finished his day with a flourish, striking out Austin Romine looking on a cutter.
"I felt really good today," said Eovaldi. "Fastball command and cutter were there. The cutter was maybe moving a little bit more than I'd like, but it was really effective today. The slider was working as well, and I was able to mix in a few curveballs."
The Yankees finally got a break from Steve Pearce on Saturday, but the Red Sox still damaged their rivals with some early home runs. Moreland gave his team a quick start when he smoked a two-run homer into the Red Sox's bullpen in right-center to break a scoreless tie in the bottom of the first. The drive was scalded with an exit velocity of 107.2 mph and went a projected distance of 407 feet, according to Statcast™.
"I know four home runs in two days [for Pearce], that's amazing, but Mitch put up some good at-bats yesterday," said Cora. "We like the player. We made the decision to make him our first baseman throughout the season, and it's good to see him hit the ball in the air."
It stayed 2-0 until the bottom of the fourth, when J.D. Martinez took the MLB lead in homers with a solo shot over the Green Monster, his 33rd on the season. Martinez broke a tie with Indians slugger Jose Ramirez.
Yankees right-hander Chance Adams, who was making his Major League debut, gave up both home runs to put his team in a 3-0 hole.
The three runs were more than enough for Eovaldi, who cruised throughout his outing.
"You keep those pitches on the edge of the strike zone, it's very tough to hit," said Cora. "It seems like the cutter was really, really good, a lot of late decisions from their part to either take the pitch or to swing. It's impressive, it is. You look up and he's throwing 100 [mph] in the eighth inning. He is who we thought he was going to be."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
After a stress-free first eight innings, there was some tension in the air in the top of the ninth, when Kimbrel labored in his first outing since Sunday. With the bases loaded and the go-ahead run at the plate, Kimbrel made the pitch he needed to, getting Greg Bird to hit his 2-1 knuckle-curve in the air to center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. for the final out. Kimbrel threw 32 pitches, 18 of them for strikes. His first two outs were strikeouts before he allowed back-to-back doubles and two walks.
This is the biggest lead the Red Sox have had in the division since September 2013. The 78 wins by Boston are the most the team has had in its first 112 games. The Sox have won seven of eight, 22 of 27 and 48 of 67. The Red Sox have been close to unbeatable at home lately, winning 17 of their last 20. Boston is a blistering 41-15 at home.
HE SAID IT
"Nasty, especially when he's got that 98-mph fastball and the slider he blends off of it. It's tough." -- Martinez, on Eovaldi
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
With runners at first and second and two outs in the seventh, Sandy Leon smacked a line drive down the third-base line that went into the stands and was initially ruled a foul ball. But the Red Sox challenged the call, and it was overturned to a ground-rule double after replay review, giving Leon an RBI and Boston an insurance run.
All eyes will be on Price when he takes the mound in Sunday night's 8:05 ET finale of this four-game series against the Yankees, with the Red Sox looking to sweep at Fenway Park. Price's struggles against the Yankees since he joined the Red Sox in 2016 have been notorious. This season, Price is 0-2 with a 24.92 ERA in two starts. Last time out at Yankee Stadium, Price gave up eight runs and a career-high five homers in 3 1/3 innings. Before coming to Boston, Price was 13-7 with a 4.06 ERA in 30 starts against the Yankees. Since coming to the Red Sox, he is 2-6 with an 8.43 ERA in nine rivalry starts. The Yankees will counter with Masahiro Tanaka.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.