Nathan Eovaldi and the Red Sox came to terms on a new four-year, $68 million contract on Thursday, which means 2018 ends so much better for the right-hander than it began; it ends with him as one of the best and most important baseball stories of the year. This isn't
Nathan Eovaldi and the Red Sox came to terms on a new four-year, $68 million contract on Thursday, which means 2018 ends so much better for the right-hander than it began; it ends with him as one of the best and most important baseball stories of the year. This isn't just about the beauty of baseball. It is really about the beauty of sports, as long as you keep showing up.
Eovaldi, out of Alvin, Texas, Nolan Ryan's hometown, has already had two Tommy John surgeries, the first at Alvin High School when he was a junior. The second surgery came when he was with the Yankees, for whom he had gone 23-11 in 2015-16. They released him in November of '16, and on Feb. 14, the Rays signed him, knowing he would be sitting out the '17 season.
When Eovaldi was ready to pitch again this year, he was diagnosed with loose bodies in his right elbow on March 28, underwent arthroscopic surgery, and began the season on the disabled list, which by then had to feel like a second home. On July 25, four months after that surgery, the Rays traded him to the Red Sox. And two months after that, he was as much a pitching star of the postseason as David Price was.
Price was brilliant and memorable as he slayed his postseason dragons, winning the clinching game of the American League Championship Series against the Astros, then beating the Dodgers twice in the World Series, including in the decisive Game 5.
But Eovaldi was just as brilliant and every bit as memorable because of the six relief innings he pitched, and the 97 pitches he threw, in the 18-inning Game 3, before Player Page for Max Muncy won that game with a walk-off home run.
In all ways, and even in defeat, it was the greatest relief pitching performance in the history of the World Series.
Price pitched 26 innings in the postseason, made six appearances (five starts), gave up 10 earned runs (three of which came at the hands of the Yankees in the Boston-New York AL Division Series) and struck out 23 batters. Eovaldi also made six appearances with two starts, pitched 22 1/3 innings, gave up just four earned runs and struck out 16. His ERA for his ALDS start against the Yankees was 1.29. Against the Astros in the ALCS, it was 2.45. In the World Series, it was 1.13.
When the lights were finally turned up for Eovaldi, as bright as they could ever be, there was no better pitcher in his sport -- not Price, not Justin Verlander, not Chris Sale. Not anybody.
The other day I asked Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who made so many moves that put his team back on top, what he saw from Eovaldi in the summer, months before we all saw what he did in the fall.
"He's always had great stuff," Dombrowski said. "Once he came back from his injury with Tampa [Bay], he continued to throw the ball well. We thought he could start or relieve and would also be able to pitch in Boston in a pennant race. In addition, we felt if we made some adjustments with his mix of pitches, that could help him."
Eovaldi made 12 regular-season appearances -- 11 starts -- for the Red Sox. He broke in with seven scoreless innings against the Twins. His record was 3-3, his ERA was 3.33. He struck out 48 batters in 54 innings.
When manager Alex Cora gave him the ball in what was the biggest game of his life, at Yankee Stadium against the Yankees with the ALDS even at 1, Eovaldi pitched seven innings of one-run ball. His brilliance got lost, of course, because the Red Sox won, 16-1, that night. Eovaldi nearly gave up a home run to Aaron Judge in the first inning of that game. The ball fell short of the right-field seats. Eovaldi breezed after that. It turned out to be a preview of coming attractions, all the way through those 97 pitches at the end of Game 3, when Eovaldi seemed willing to pitch all night and nearly did.
Even with the ending in the bottom of the 18th, Muncy's home run, the Red Sox said afterward that Eovaldi's performance was the truest possible beginning of them winning the World Series.
Eovaldi had pitched that way against the Dodgers, the team that originally signed him. The Alvin kid pitched the way he did against the Astros before that. Before that? He shut down the Yankees, the team that had released him two years before. This was Nathan Eovaldi's dream October. Now he gets paid for it, the kind of contract he had to think might be ever out of his reach after the second Tommy John surgery.
"He showed his abilities to all of us and continued to do so through the World Series," Dombrowski said. "He is a hard worker, strong as can be, and our medical team has cleared him for the four years."
Patrick Corbin just got more years and more money from the Nationals. No one meant more in October than Eovaldi did. A lot has happened to him across his baseball life. A lot has happened lately. He is still just 28 years old. Maybe the Red Sox still don't know whether he's a starter or reliever. Doesn't matter. What matters to the Sox is that they held on to him. The way Eovaldi held on to his dreams, no matter what. Guy keeps coming.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.