Game Two seemed like the most normal baseball game of the postseason thus far, or at least the most regular season type of game. Of course, it wasn’t totally normal, and the most interesting part of the game to me would have never happened in the regular season. That’s using Nathan Eovaldi in the eighth inning with a two-run lead. I was never expecting the presumed Game Four starter to make relief appearances in each of the first two games, even if right now he is certainly the best option. It’s not as if Alex Cora didn’t have other options, either. Joe Kelly had only thrown 11 pitches and bringing him out for a second inning of work would not have been crazy. Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes have also been very effective this postseason and are more traditional set-up men. I don’t think anyone would have blinked if either of them took the mound in that eighth inning on Wednesday. Hell, I even would have expected Rick Porcello to take the mound before Eovaldi — with the former moving his start to Game Four and the latter taking Game Three.
That’s not what happened, though, and the reasoning is pretty simple. As I said above, it’s hard to be more confident in anyone else besides Eovaldi in short stints, and that may even include the rejuvenated Craig Kimbrel. Cora saw an opportunity to close out Game Two with both Eovaldi and Kimbrel, and that was the only option in his mind. Win Game Two, then worry about the rest later. That’s really been the mantra of this postseason, and it’s a refreshing pivot for the Red Sox manager that shows his flexibility between regular season managing and doing the job in October.
Coming into the series, the assumption was that Eovaldi was lined up to start Game Three. That was how the approached the first two series, after all, and obviously things went pretty well against each of those opponents. Eovaldi won both of those starts on the road against big-time offenses in hitters parks. It only made sense for that to continue in Los Angeles. When he came out of the bullpen in Game One, that plan became a little shakier. When he came out again on a second consecutive day, the plan shattered. Rick Porcello was now the Game Three starter, and Game Four was up for grabs. Cora did say after the second win that Eovaldi could still take the mound in Game Four, but there was a catch.
The catch? We could see Eovaldi in the bullpen again in Game Three, and that’s exactly how it should be. He remains the second-best option in this bullpen right now, even with everyone else pitching well, and the Red Sox need to do everything they can to win games when they have the chance. If they find themselves late in Friday’s game with a one- or two-run lead, Eovaldi will be the best chance to lock down the victory. That should be the sole concern on the mind of Cora. Would it throw a wrench in to the Game Four pitching plans? Absolutely. Does that matter? It does not. All postseason, the Red Sox have had a singular focus on winning the game in front of them first and worrying about the future later. That needs to continue on Friday.
There’s just such a massive difference between a 3-0 lead and a 2-1 lead, and Cora should and will do everything in his power to get that lead. The good news is he’s shown that willingness and that sense of urgency all October. There’s no reason to expect it to change now. Really, it’s been one of the most encouraging signs this postseason. All summer, the concern with Cora was that he was taking it too easy on the players and that he wouldn’t be able to adjust his style for postseason baseball. Clearly, that hasn’t been the case. He’s going for the jugular when he gets the chance, and that killer instinct has Boston where they are. That should and will continue on Friday, even if it means using Eovaldi out of the bullpen for the third time in three games.