HOUSTON -- The most legendary flame-thrower from Alvin, Texas -- or perhaps anywhere -- was sitting in the front row of the stands behind home plate, a direct line from the pitcher's mound.
But the man on the mound for the Red Sox was the most impactful Alvin native during Tuesday's Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. With Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan looking on, Nathan Eovaldi pumped in fastballs between 95.5 and 101 mph as the Sox recorded an 8-2 victory over the Astros to take a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven series.
Eovaldi was so focused on catcher Christian Vazquez's mitt that he never did catch a glimpse of MLB's all-time strikeout leader.
"No, I assume he's there, but I'm not looking for him, I'm just trying to stay focused and locked in on the target and focusing on that strike one," said Eovaldi. "I had a lot of friends and family here tonight at the game. It was definitely a special game for me."
The hit that put the game away and solidified the win for Eovaldi was a grand slam to right by Jackie Bradley Jr. with two outs in the top of the eighth against Astros closer Roberto Osuna.
"It's huge. We're playing a really good team in Houston. Runs are at a premium," Bradley said. "We never feel like enough runs is going to be enough. So it was very, very special for us."
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It had been a tight game throughout the first seven innings, but the Astros helped Boston extend its lead when Osuna hit pinch-hitters Brock Holt and Mitch Moreland back-to-back to load them up for Bradley, who mashed the sixth grand slam in postseason history for the Red Sox. It was the first postseason slam in MLB history for a non-pitcher or pinch-hitter in the ninth slot in the batting order.
Before the game turned into a rout, Eovaldi (2-0, 2.08 ERA in this postseason) was nails. The righty went six innings while scattering six hits and two runs. Eovaldi walked two and struck out four, following up with a strong encore to his tremendous outing at Yankee Stadium in Game 3 of the AL Division Series. Of his 92 pitches, 60 were for strikes.
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"Nate did amazing," said Bradley. "He's been like the unsung hero, coming in and just filling up the zone with strikes with all his pitches, and taking it deep into the game, allowing the bullpen to rest a little bit. He's battled since pitch one and it's been a lot of fun playing behind him."
As for Bradley, he got a 94.4-mph fastball that was up and in, and he obliterated it.
"You know what, that's a pitch I always get him out with," Osuna said. "He hit it today, but I mean, I will go there a hundred more times."
While Bradley's knock was the biggest of the game, Steve Pearce also came up clutch, launching a towering homer to lead off the top of the sixth, breaking a 2-2 tie. It was Pearce's first career postseason homer.
"It felt great. I'm not going to lie," said Pearce. "I'm just glad it stayed fair. It was really close and timely. So, yeah, we'll hopefully keep the ball rolling."
After losing Game 1 at Fenway, the Red Sox have responded and regained home-field advantage in this clash of titans between the two winningest teams in the Majors this season. In the history of best-of-seven series with the 2-3-2 format, teams that win Game 3 on the road to grab a 2-1 advantage have gone on to take the series 27 of 36 times (75 percent).
The Sox are 3-0 on the road in this postseason, something that will give them confidence for these next two games in Houston.
"It's not easy to win here," said Boston manager Alex Cora. "This is a place that they feed off the crowd. They're very comfortable here offensively, and to show up today and play the way we did, I'm very proud of them."
Unlike the last time Eovaldi pitched in Houston, back on June 20 when he allowed three consecutive homers while with the Rays, he held the defending World Series champion Astros in check in this one.
"Nate was outstanding. Like I said, stuff-wise, he's one of the best left in October," said Cora. "His fastball, his cutter [were both good]. He didn't throw too many breaking balls. He did to Marwin [Gonzalez], but overall, a great outing. He didn't get caught up in the moment either. For him, I know it was a special one."
Just like in Game 2, the Red Sox got out to a fast start. And again, it was Mookie Betts setting the tone with a leadoff single. Andrew Benintendi followed with a single to left. J.D. Martinez then broke his 0-for-7 ALCS drought by lacing an RBI double down the line in right. Xander Bogaerts made it 2-0 with a fielder's-choice grounder to short.
Houston responded in its half of the first when Gonzalez laced an RBI single to right to make it a one-run game.
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Eovaldi settled down nicely in the middle innings, but Jose Altuve got a key two-out walk in the fifth. Alex Bregman stepped up next and smashed a double under the glove of third baseman Rafael Devers to tie the game at 2.
"I was a little frustrated," Eovaldi said. "He was able to sink a ball down the line and get a double out of it. And I was more upset with the fact I had two outs and I had an 0-2 count on Altuve and I ended up walking him."
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After that, the momentum went to Boston and stayed there.
"For Pearce to step up like he did in the sixth inning and answer right back, that says a lot about our team," Eovaldi said.
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For Eovaldi, this will be a performance he will never forget. And his countless friends and family members who were in attendance or watching on television will make sure he doesn't.
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"I had a little over 100 text messages," said Eovaldi. "I definitely appreciate all my family sending their love and support. I know it's on the road, but I had a lot of friends and family here, and I know how important the game was tonight."
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So important in fact that it put the Red Sox just two wins away from getting to the World Series.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Brasier bests Bregman: When Altuve dropped down a perfect bunt single with two outs in the seventh, the Astros had their best player at the plate in Bregman. After a passed ball by Vazquez moved Altuve to second, it was fair to wonder if Boston might give Bregman -- a walk machine in these playoffs -- an intentional pass. But after falling behind 3-1, Brasier got Bregman to line his two-seamer to Bradley in center to end the inning.
"All the games we're in right now, every out to us is the biggest out of the series," Brasier said. "We attack every out as if it's the biggest out of the game. It kind of ran up to him a little bit, but maybe it did get in on him just a little bit. Just enough to not get good contact on it, and that's all you can ask for."
The slam by Bradley was the first by the Red Sox in the postseason since Shane Victorino's game-breaking shot in the clinching Game 6 of the ALCS against the Tigers in 2013. David Ortiz mauled a game-tying slam in Game 2 of that same series against Joaquin Benoit.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
In the top of the third, Pearce nearly had a double off the wall on a high fly ball to left. Tony Kemp drifted back to the wall an timed his leap perfectly for a dazzling grab that thrilled the crowd. One run would have scored if the ball had gone off the wall, if not two.
"Going back to the wall, pretty much I just have the countdown in my head," said Kemp. "Once the ball goes up and as it's at the apex and it's coming down, you know how far the ball is going to reach the wall, so you have to make the ball doesn't touch the wall in any way you can."
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HE SAID IT
"Maybe when the season is finally over, I'll sit back and think about it. But right now, I'm so focused on being ready in two days if they need me out of the bullpen." -- Eovaldi, on his journey from Tommy John surgery to postseason hero
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The late innings could have had a lot more tension if not for Osuna hitting Holt on the back foot on an 0-2 slider in that eighth inning. It was originally called a ball, but the Red Sox alertly challenged it and it was overturned, helping to set the stage for Bradley.