Eovaldi deals with strikeout king in front row
Yankees righty went to same high school as Hall of Famer Ryan
HOUSTON -- Some of the earliest baseball memories that Nathan Eovaldi owns reference Nolan Ryan in some form or fashion, even though the Yankees right-hander wasn't even in preschool when the strikeout king threw his final pitch as a member of the 1993 Rangers.
Growing up in Alvin, Texas, Eovaldi often admired the photos throughout the town that proudly chronicle Ryan's 27-year career. Pitching for the first time in his home state, Eovaldi put on a good show for an audience that included the Hall of Famer, logging the win in a 3-2 Yankees victory over the Astros.
"Growing up for me, I connected to baseball with him," Eovaldi said. "In our town, it was Nolan Ryan everything. You'd go to any restaurant and his memorabilia and everything was there."
Ryan -- now an advisor to Astros owner Jim Crane -- had great seats to see his fellow Alvin Yellowjacket alum, celebrating his 48th wedding anniversary by sitting in the first row with his wife, Ruth.
Eovaldi said that he didn't realize Ryan was behind the screen until he was shown on the right-field scoreboard in the fifth inning. By that point, Eovaldi had already settled his nerves and was using his fastball, curveball and splitter to keep the Astros off balance.
"They're a really aggressive team," said Eovaldi, who scattered five hits while walking two and striking out six. "They jump on the fastball a lot. I was just trying to be able to keep them off the fastball as much as possible and work ahead in the count to get them off the fastball."
It marked the second consecutive solid start for Eovaldi, who beat the Tigers last time out with another sharp six-inning effort. That helped restore Eovaldi's confidence after a disastrous first-inning knockout on June 16 at Miami, a start in which Eovaldi said he was probably too amped up to face his former Marlins teammates.
"I think he's making progress," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's a young pitcher. Even though he's been in the league a bit, he's still young. He's learning how to use his stuff and I thought he used it as good tonight as he has all year long."
Just pitching in Houston was meaningful for Eovaldi, who grew up cheering for the Astros -- especially the Killer B's of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman, attending games with his father at the Astrodome and Minute Maid Park.
"We'd usually be up in the high seats and then work our way down toward the end of the games," Eovaldi said. "Growing up, it was just all about getting to the field early, watching the guys take BP and trying to get autographs."
In preparation for Friday's start, Eovaldi said that he left about 100 tickets for friends and family members at the will-call window. They weren't difficult to find; a large pro-Yankee cheering section was made up nearly entirely of people who got their seats through Eovaldi and fellow Houstonian Chris Young, who hit a go-ahead three-run home run.
"It was just a big game. A lot of emotions," Eovaldi said. "[I was] just trying not to let them get the best of me, and go out there and locate my pitches."