Minute Maid Park feels like home for Eovaldi

October 15th, 2021

HOUSTON -- If you can’t pitch at home in the playoffs, you might as well pitch in a place that feels like home.

That’s how Red Sox right-hander looks at the situation heading into his start against the Astros in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday.

Eovaldi grew up in Alvin, Texas, which is about 30 miles from Minute Maid Park.

In the 2018 ALCS, Eovaldi looked comfortable in familiar surroundings in his Game 3 start at Houston, holding the Astros to two runs over six innings in a Boston victory.

“It's definitely one of my favorite ballparks to pitch in. Growing up we went to a lot of the games at the Astrodome, Minute Maid, Enron at the time,” said Eovaldi. “Got a lot of fond memories here. In high school we had a tournament or two we got to play here in high school. Any time you're a high school kid and you get to step on a big league field, it's pretty awesome. I’ve got a lot of fond memories here.”

Eovaldi has pitched four times at Minute Maid Park, including the postseason, going 2-1 with a 3.72 ERA.

This will be his first pitching appearance in Houston since a relief outing in the decisive Game 5 of the ‘18 ALCS.

Did he have a favorite Astro as a kid?

“Growing up I had a lot of guys I liked,” Eovaldi said. “I didn't have really one in particular. I like watching [Craig] Biggio, [Jeff] Bagwell and [Lance] Berkman when they were here. I liked watching Roy Oswalt. When I was in high school, it was closer to the time when [Andy] Pettitte and [Roger] Clemens were here. Just getting to watch those guys do what they do, and even though it was towards the end of their careers, it was just awesome to get to watch them go out there and perform.”

Eovaldi, who was Boston’s best pitcher this season, is carving out an October legacy for himself.

In eight career playoff appearances, he is 3-1 with a 1.93 ERA. In his four postseason starts, Eovaldi has a 2.31 ERA while holding the opposition to a .205 average.

Dalbec on bench
While Bobby Dalbec has almost always started against left-handed pitchers this season -- and that was the case in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Rays -- he was on the bench in Game 1 of the ALCS against Astros southpaw Framber Valdez.

Dalbec is 0-for-10 this postseason and has been notoriously streaky in his rookie year.

The move meant that Alex Verdugo stayed in the lineup, despite his .549 OPS against Houston this season.

“He’s a different lefty,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Valdez. “His numbers, it’s not like he dominates either side. He dominates both sides so it’s very neutral. Obviously having Travis [Shaw] and Bobby on the bench, we’ll be prepared for whatever they do.”

In 133 games during the regular season, Dalbec hit 25 homers to go with 78 RBIs and a .792 OPS. Against lefties, his OPS was .878.

Bullpen shuffle
After being left off the roster for the Wild Card Game and the ALDS, righty Hirokazu Sawamura (5-1, 3.06 ERA) and lefty Darwinzon Hernandez (2-2, 3.38 ERA) returned to the mix for the ALCS, replacing righty Matt Barnes and lefty Austin Davis.

“Who we’re facing, and I think it’s more who they are and what they do. We feel like they match up better in this series against this group,” said Cora.

Sawamura and Hernandez both got important outs for the Red Sox at different times this season.

In fact, Sawamura was a standout performer for the Red Sox before the All-Star break, notching a 2.45 ERA and holding opponents to a .712 OPS. However, the rookie righty from Japan tailed off quite a bit after the break, posting a 4.41 ERA while allowing opponents to compile an .883 OPS against him.

“You just adjust throughout the playoffs and the Yankees were different than the Rays, and the Astros are different than the Rays,” said Cora. “We just feel like in this series he matches up well with certain hitters in the opposition compared to the Wild Card Game and the last series, so that's why we added him.”