Eovaldi raring to go in huge Wild Card start

October 5th, 2021

BOSTON -- For several weeks, Red Sox manager Alex Cora had his pitching rotation lined up for Nathan Eovaldi to be the man on the mound for Tuesday’s American League Wild Card Game.

That isn’t just because Eovaldi was Boston’s best starting pitcher this season or because he has generally handled the Yankees since joining the Red Sox in 2018.

The decision also has much to do with the fact Eovaldi came up as big as any Red Sox pitcher in the 2018 postseason run, which ended in a World Series title.

Eovaldi made six appearances that October, posting a 1.61 ERA over 22 1/3 innings. In his two starts, he mastered the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS (seven innings, one run) and the Astros in Game 3 of the ALCS (six innings, two runs).

“I definitely think it helps out a lot, just to be able to say I've experienced it and been through it,” Eovaldi said. “I'm just real excited to be in this situation, and I fought real hard to get to this point.”

The Yankees will counter with their ace Gerrit Cole, who gained respect for Eovaldi while watching him from the Astros' dugout in that 2018 ALCS.

“Nate's got some magic,” said Cole. “He's a high-stakes performer. That's why he's got a contract and why they wanted to keep him around. Incredible postseason run that he made for them and selflessly pitching in huge spots. I mean, I respect anybody that does what I do and takes the ball every time and sells out for it.”

Though Eovaldi is known for his high-octane fastball, he has a deep mix that also includes a curve, slider, splitter and cutter.

“Pretty magnificent to watch him go out there and replicate that velocity and all those different pitches all the time,” said Cole. "I'm a fan of Nate. He's well-respected in our clubhouse, as well, obviously having played for us and left an impact on quite a bit of guys, the way he goes about his business. I don't know him personally, but what I've heard is he's a true professional and I enjoy watching him pitch.”

You don’t have to go far back to find the last Eovaldi-Cole matchup. The two righties met on Sept. 24 at Fenway Park and that didn’t go well for Eovaldi, as he was hammered for seven hits and seven runs in 2 2/3 innings in an 8-3 win for Cole and the Yankees. It was a huge difference from his previous five starts against the Bronx Bombers this season, when he pitched to a 2.01 ERA. Eovaldi looks forward to his chance at redemption.

“I feel like that's one of the best things I've been able to do this year is rebound after a bad start,” Eovaldi said. “I felt last time I faced these guys, it was a little mechanical, and if you fall behind in the counts, they are going to be able to do damage and I wasn't able to execute my offspeed pitches.”

Eovaldi made all 32 of his starts this season, going 11-9 with a 3.75 ERA.

“He's been amazing all season,” Cora said. “The way we structured our rotation towards the end, it was Chris [Sale] for 162, Nate for 163 for the Wild Card Game. Here we are. This year, the numbers that we always look at -- ERA and all that -- have been solid, but the ones under the hood have been good, too. He's been very consistent for us and we're glad that he's going to take the ball tomorrow.”

Experienced in this spot

Though the Red Sox have never played in the Wild Card Game since the format came into inception in 2012, one of their most important players is very familiar with it.

While with the Cubs, Kyle Schwarber played in the 2015 Wild Card Game against the Pirates, belting two hits, including a homer, in a 4-0 win. In the ’18 Wild Card Game, the Rockies beat the Cubs, 2-1, in 13 innings with Schwarber going 0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter.

“It's a very exciting game in general,” said Schwarber. “I think it's great for baseball. It's a game that it says it all in its [title], ‘Wild Card,' anything can happen.”

What’s the difference between the Wild Card Game and a regular postseason series?

“I think it's more excitement when you come into the park. That's the biggest thing -- that you're excited when you're rolling into the park knowing that, you know what? It's today and this is all we can do,” said Schwarber. “But you know, as that game can keep rolling on and rolling on, I think the battle is to keep the voices out of the head and take it inning by inning, pitch by pitch. That's the biggest thing. You can't look too far ahead.”