NEW YORK -- Rookie manager Alex Cora is already sensing how quickly plans can change in the postseason. With that in mind, the Red Sox will start Nathan Eovaldi for the pivotal Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium tonight, with New York and Boston even
NEW YORK -- Rookie manager Alex Cora is already sensing how quickly plans can change in the postseason. With that in mind, the Red Sox will start Nathan Eovaldi for the pivotal Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium tonight, with New York and Boston even at one game apiece in the best-of-five series.
Originally, 17-game winner Rick Porcello was supposed to draw the Game 3 nod. But Porcello was needed for the first two outs of the eighth inning of a chaotic 5-4 win in Game 1, and Cora felt it made more sense to hold his sinkerballer until Game 4.
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"Rick pitched that inning on Friday, so we felt like one more day is going to benefit him if we stay away from him," said Cora. "Nate hasn't pitched in a while. He's rested, had a good week, and we're going with him."
That might not be a bad thing. Eovaldi has been lights-out against the Yankees since joining the Red Sox in July, firing 16 scoreless innings against their high-powered offense.
"Yeah, it definitely gives me confidence just knowing that I've had recent success against them," Eovaldi said. "I'm trying to do the same thing that I have been doing; stay aggressive and try to get that first-pitch strike out of the way."
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Getting 27 outs against the Yankees, particularly when they are at home, is a daunting task. The Red Sox will lean on Eovaldi to get the first 15 to 18 outs, and they'll hope that the bullpen can take it home from there.
The key to this mission will be to keep the Yankees in the ballpark. But that's easier said than done against a team that set a record for homers in a season and bashed three titanic big flies at Fenway in Game 2.
"Trying to keep the ball in the ballpark. Try and get quick outs," said Eovaldi. "Try not to let the crowd get too crazy and get behind them and get them going. Again, I feel like the key to that is working ahead and staying ahead and not really giving them the free bases and little things like that."
With Eovaldi pitching and the Yankees countering with Luis Severino, the heat will be on for Game 3. Eovaldi and Severino were the two hardest-throwing pitchers in the game this season.
Severino's average four-seam fastball velocity this season was 97.6 mph, the highest among regular starters, and Eovaldi ranked second at 97.1 mph. Eovaldi threw 10 pitches at 100-plus mph, the most among regular starters, while Severino trailed him by one, with nine pitches thrown at 100-plus mph.
"We know he's going to be throwing hard, and he's going to mix it up. He's had success against them," Cora said. "Seems like it's a good matchup. Obviously, in the playoffs, game-planning is part of it, and I know they're going to be ready, but we will, too. We trust his stuff. He can even get away with mistakes, you know what I mean? Like when you throw 100 and you place it in the right spot, even if they take a good swing, you can get missed hits. So that's a key."
Who will get the rest of the outs?
While the Red Sox hope that Eovaldi can be the type of tone-setter that David Price wasn't in Game 2, they are still going to need plenty of help from a bullpen that has lacked consistency. In a perfect world, they will hand the ball straight from Eovaldi to Matt Barnes, and then Barnes can hand it to elite closer Craig Kimbrel.
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Barnes got Giancarlo Stanton on a wicked curve to strike him out with the bases loaded and nobody out in the seventh inning of Game 1. The righty was Boston's leader in strikeouts per nine innings this season, at 14.01. That's an impressive distinction on a staff that also includes Chris Sale (13.5) and Kimbrel (13.86).
"By no means is it going to be easy to win ballgames here, but we have the absolute confidence that we can do that," Barnes said. "If we can go out and control everything we can and play the way that we know we're capable of, I think everybody in that locker room is confident that we're going to win."
Neither Barnes nor Kimbrel pitched in Game 2, so both should be plenty rested for tonight. Cora said Saturday that Kimbrel is a "full go" for the eighth inning in this series.
What if Plan A doesn't work?
So what happens if Eovaldi doesn't last long enough for a straight handoff to Barnes and Kimbrel?
That's where it gets interesting. Given the importance of this game -- the Red Sox need a split in New York to stay alive -- Cora will pull out all the stops. This could include deploying Price -- who threw just 42 pitches in Game 2 -- in a relief role.
Do you want the good news first or the bad news? We'll give you the good news. Price has actually been successful in the postseason as a reliever throughout his career, going 2-0 with a 2.35 ERA in eight outings.
Now, the bad news: Price has been a disaster at Yankee Stadium in the three years he's been with Boston. From May 7, 2016 through Sept. 19, 2018, Price pitched six times at Yankee Stadium. In those games, he was 0-6 with a 9.79 ERA while allowing 13 home runs in 30 1/3 innings. In other words, Cora would probably like to stay away from Price until Game 5 if he can, particularly in high-leverage situations.
Though Porcello is penciled in for Tuesday's Game 4, don't rule the righty out from pitching out of the 'pen in Game 3. Porcello, like Eovaldi, has fared well against New York this season, going 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA over 24 innings.
If Porcello is thrust into action in Game 3, the Red Sox would have to start Price (gulp) or Eduardo Rodriguez in Game 4. Or maybe they would just have to go with a bullpen game. If Cora has a chance to win Game 3, he will do everything in his power to do it.
Who else can Cora trust?
Joe Kelly certainly gained some of his confidence back by firing 2 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 2. Kelly tends to go on long streaks -- both good and bad. Perhaps he's ready to get hot again. In 30 games from April 1 through June 14, Kelly had a 1.47 ERA.
Ryan Brasier is another important arm for Cora. Not even on the 40-man roster when the season started, as he pitched in Japan last year, Braiser had a 1.60 ERA in 34 regular-season games. He had a hiccup in Game 1, allowing two of Sale's inherited runs to score. But Brasier not only bounced back in Game 2, striking out the side in one inning, but he also shouted at Gary Sanchez to get back in the batter's box. The Red Sox welcome that kind of fire.
Any edge the Red Sox can muster is necessary against a loaded Yankees lineup.
"They all concern me," Cora said of the Yankees' offense. "They're all good. You make a mistake on them -- the thing is, it's not going to be a single. They hit the ball out of the ballpark. So they're all good."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.