BOSTON -- Nathan Eovaldi had a chance on Friday night to put a stamp on what has been his finest season to date.
Instead, he experienced a nadir that nobody saw coming.
With the win, New York (87-67) pulled within a game of Boston (88-66) for the top AL Wild Card spot. The Blue Jays and Mariners are two behind the Yankees for the second spot and three behind the Sox. Toronto lost, 3-1, to Minnesota while Seattle beat the Angels, 6-5.
"It's frustrating," said Eovaldi. "We know how important this game is tonight. We know where we stand in the hunt for the Wild Card and the playoffs. To be able to come in tonight, I have to be able to set the tone, first game of the series, and I didn't do that tonight. It's extremely frustrating for me."
Eovaldi pitched a season low of 2 2/3 innings, allowing seven hits and seven runs (tied for a season high) while walking two and not getting a strikeout for the first time as a starter since Aug. 31, 2018.
For Eovaldi, the reason for his struggles was hardly a mystery.
"I didn't really have a great feel on my curveball or splitter tonight," said Eovaldi. "Early in the first inning, I was sweating a lot and the splitter just kept slipping out. I wasn't executing, I wasn't able to get down in the zone."
Eovaldi was essentially like a carpenter without two of the most important pieces in his tool-belt.
"For me, my two key pitches, I have to have one of those working," said Eovaldi. "Curveball slows them down [when it's working], and I'm able to get ahead of guys instead of falling behind in the count 1-0. Even 2-0 when I try to double up on it, it just gives the batters a better chance to gear up for something hard."
The Yankees, the team Eovaldi had dominated since he came to the Red Sox for the 2018 stretch run, belted him out of the gate for three straight hits, including a booming double to center by Aaron Judge that got the scoring underway.
By the time the Red Sox came into the dugout to take their first hacks against Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, they were already down, 3-0.
It was somewhat stunning, considering Eovaldi had a 2.01 ERA against New York in five previous starts this season.
"Before the game, during the meeting, we were talking about trying to attack early," said Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres. "That helped Cole. Eovaldi always pitches really well when they face us. We changed a little bit of the plan and tried to attack early and did damage early."
Considering all the build-up coming into this latest rivalry series, the air came out of the ballpark swiftly as the Yankees knocked Eovaldi out in the third and took a 7-0 lead.
Given how consistent Eovaldi has been all season, perhaps it was just a matter of time he would throw in a clunker. The timing for it was just tough, given what time of year it is.
"It's part of it," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "Their guy [Cole] struggled the last one against Cleveland. The good ones, they have bad ones. Tonight, [Eovaldi] wasn't that far off. He just wasn't able to put those guys away with two strikes. No strikeout, you don't see that often. It's one of those that you have to turn the page and be ready for the next one."
Rafael Devers at last brought a burst of energy to the packed house of 36,026 at Fenway when he unloaded for a three-run homer to right against Cole in the sixth. J.D. Martinez nearly made it back-to-back homers, but his drive to deep right was flagged down by Judge at the warning track.
That was really the only flicker of hope the Red Sox had in a game that slipped away early.
With eight games left, each contest will be vitally important.
There stands a decent chance that Friday's matchup was a preview of the AL Wild Card Game on Oct. 5. Whichever team finishes with a better record will host that game.
"I want to sleep in my bed the night before if we get there. That's always good," said Cora. "It's home, you've got the last at-bat. But we're not there yet. We know where we're at right now. We've got to show up tomorrow and put together a good game. We cannot get ahead of ourselves talking about playoffs. Right now, we are in a fight with a lot of teams around us and tomorrow we have to come out here and play a good game."