BOSTON -- The last time Nathan Eovaldi had seen the Houston Astros, he helped put a stop sign on their quest to reach a second straight World Series.
That was October of 2018, the pinnacle of Eovaldi’s career, when he stifled the Astros as a starter in Game 3 of the ALCS and as a reliever in the clinching Game 5.
The reunion meeting Wednesday at Fenway Park was no fun for Boston’s flame-throwing righty, who was hammered for 11 hits and five earned runs over 5 2/3 innings as the Red Sox were soundly beaten, 8-3.
The dominance the Red Sox had against the Astros three years ago on the big stage also felt like a long time ago by the time Wednesday’s game was complete.
Over the last two weeks, the Sox and Astros have played six games, with Houston winning five and outscoring Boston, 34-13.
It’s unlikely the Red Sox are upset that Thursday night’s contest will be their last against the Astros in 2021 -- unless they meet again in the postseason.
“They’re one of the best teams in the big leagues right now. Obviously, we have to find it offensively against them,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “Hopefully, we get a chance [to face them] later on in the year, but today, they put [on] a clinic. They did. They put on a clinic of controlling the strike zone, going the other way, taking their walks, not striking out. That’s why they are the best offense in baseball.”
The Red Sox, at 37-25, are ahead of where nearly every prognosticator expected them to be at this point of the season. Though they’ve slipped against a loaded Houston team, Cora doesn’t think this is any indication his team is about to level off.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to [the Astros] too,” said Cora. “It’s hard. We’re a little bit short against a great team. ... I’m not concerned, to be honest with you. I do believe over 162 games, you’re going to go through stretches like this.”
No matter what happens on Thursday, when Eduardo Rodriguez faces off against Zack Greinke, the Astros have already won the series, just as they did last week in Houston.
But the Red Sox won the series finale last week to avoid a sweep, and it’s important they do so again Thursday.
One thing Cora thinks has impacted his team’s performance this week is that a grueling seven-game road trip through Houston and New York was followed by a Monday afternoon makeup game against Miami that preceded this three-game set against Houston.
“Not to make excuses, but that game on Monday, it was a tough one for us to set up the week,” said Cora. “But we’ll reset. We expect Eddie to go out there tomorrow and perform, go deep into the game and go to our [late-inning] guys and go forward.”
Eovaldi’s performance was marred by a third inning in which he was tagged for four runs. That fateful frame opened with Jose Altuve tuning out the boo birds at Fenway Park by hitting a towering homer that went over the Green Monster. Houston sent eight batters to the plate that inning.
“That third inning ... with Altuve leading off, I missed with a cutter inside, and he didn’t miss with the home run,” Eovaldi said. “After that, I had the walk, [then] I kind of left some offspeed pitches over the middle part of the plate. Then after that, I felt like they were attacking early on the offspeed pitches, peppering the ball down the lines.
“They just did a good job of attacking right there. After the third inning, I was able to make the adjustments I needed to and keep them off the board after that. But I felt like the damage was already too late.”
The one positive for the Sox from Wednesday’s loss? Another sensational throw by Hunter Renfroe, who fired a 98-mph laser beam, as measured by Statcast, to nail Alex Bregman, who was trying to score from second on a single lined to right by Yordan Alvarez.
It was tied for the hardest throw on an outfield assist in MLB this season, but Renfroe downplayed it.
“Average,” he said of the throw. “There’s more in the tank.”
The Red Sox have 17 assists from their outfielders, the most in the Majors. It is particularly surprising teams are running on Renfroe, who has seven of those assists, which is tied for most in the Majors.
“I’d say seven or eight out of 10 times, they’re going to score the run no matter how good the throw is or whatever,” said Renfroe. “Now guys are getting so good at sliding and avoiding tags. I think that’s kind of a big issue. Obviously, the accuracy of the throw has to be absolutely perfect to nail a guy at home or at third or whatever. They’re playing the odds game more than anything.”