So here’s the problem with gambling: it really hurts when you lose.
Alex Cora rolled the dice last night, bringing starter Nathan Eovaldi into a 2-2 game in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. Logic suggested Eovaldi might pitch if the Sox grabbed the lead. They did not. And, as it turned out, they never did.
Was that the axis on which this 2021 ALCS will spin? We shall see. But the Red Sox blew another lead in the playoffs last night and the Astros came back to beat Boston’s two best pitchers – Eovaldi in the ninth, Garrett Whitlock in the eighth – and there is a chance Cora will have neither tonight for Game 5.
“He was going to give us one inning and we felt right there in that pocket it was good for him,” Cora said of the decision to use Eovaldi, his staff ace. “I wasn’t going to use him in extra innings because then I get tempted to use him for six, so I decided to use him in the ninth, and it didn’t work.”
Pretty simple answer there. It didn’t work.
Frustrating? You bet it was, especially when the coin flip that is umpire Laz Diaz missed what felt like a called third strike with two outs and two on. Should the Red Sox have been out of the inning? Probably. But don’t ignore what happened next. Eovaldi and the Red Sox cratered, a 3-2 game become a 9-2 laugher that made this series a best-of-3 affair.
You can blame Diaz for 3-2 if you want. You can’t blame him for 9-2.
A few things to note here: First, the Red Sox are still a pitcher short in the late innings, especially if Adam Ottavino is only going to be used for four pitches and one out. Of Ottavino and Tanner Houck (who did not pitch last night), Cora will need to get ore than one out and four pitches in a 2-1 game with a trip to the World Series on the line. In four outings covering 3.1 innings this postseason, Ottavino has allowed only one hit while striking out three and issuing no walks.
Cora has managed those matchups, for sure, but he has to try for more. Someone else has to emerge from the bullpen or the Sox aren’t going to last. Sox relievers have blown leads in the last four close games the Sox have played this postseason – Games 3 and of 4 the AL Division Series, Games 1 and 4 of the ALCS.
If you think you’re going to keep winning by blowout, you’re delusional.
Late last night, in what was a 3-2 game at the time, Jose Altuve stepped to the plate against Eovaldi when announcer Joe Buck observed a change at Fenway Park. The temperature, Buck said, had dropped fast. The opposite is now true in this ALCS, the temperature increasing by the second as a wobbly Chris Sale takes the mound for Game 5 today with a return trip to Houston now on the itinerary.
The moral of the story: in New England, at this time of year and especially at Fenway Park, things can indeed change very, very quickly.