There are 147 down and 15 to go, and there is no telling where this will all end up in this split personality known as the 2021 Red Sox season. But this much is clear: the Red Sox would be burnt toast without Nathan Eovaldi.
Rebounding from Monday’s self-inflicted defeat, the Red Sox rallied for an 8-4 win over the Seattle Mariners Tuesday night with a five-run eighth inning, the key blow coming in the form of a three-run double from Kyle Schwarber. (Nice bounce-back there from Schwarber after Monday’s costly error.) Because the New York Yankees won and the Toronto Blue Jays lost, what we have now is effectively a three-way tie atop the American League Wild Card race with a couple of weeks to go.
But the key moment in this game? Don’t kid yourself. It came in the fourth inning. The Mariners had just tied the game at 1 and had two men on (at first and second) with nobody out when this happened:
The result of this miscue: bases loaded, nobody out. Game on the line.
Now the shocker: instead of the Red Sox suffering another self-inflicted gunshot wound, Eovaldi powered his way out of the inning – allowing only a sacrifice fly – and gave the Sox the chance to come back, which they did. Instead or trailing 4-1 or 5-1, the game sat at 2-1 with a lot of baseball left to play.
Given Eovaldi’s reputation here in Boston, this shouldn’t surprise you. In 2018, Eovaldi forged his legacy with an unforgettable postseason during which he pitched six innings of stellar relief in a Game 3 World Series loss. (He posted a 1.61 ERA in 22.1 postseason innings that year.) And this season, he just might be the Red Sox’ Most Valuable Player. The Sox have now won five straight and 6-of-7 with Eovaldi on the mound, including wins over Tampa Bay (twice) and Seattle. Only heaven knows where they would be without him.
“That was amazing,” manager Alex Cora told reporters of Eovaldi’s fourth-inning escape act. “That was a tough inning and obviously we didn’t help him out.”
One other thing here: the Red Sox’ defense remains a fatal flaw, and we all know it. Monday marked the 19th time the Sox have allowed multiple unearned runs, a number that leads baseball. (Not good.) Entering last night, the Sox had allowed at least one unearned run in 44 games; only three teams have been more calamitous and all three – Minnesota, Miami and Arizona – were among the worst teams in baseball.
That said, the unearned runs aren’t entirely on the defense. Often, a pitcher still has the chance to fight his way out of the inning, which Eovaldi proved. Last night, Eovaldi didn’t just keep the game in check.
He also effectively erased a potentially massive error by a teammate.