The bullpen strikes again. The Red Sox’ biggest concern heading into October is clear to everyone who has watched this team over the last six weeks or so, and they aren’t feeling any better after this one. The good news on the bullpen front is that Nathan Eovaldi will be part of it, and he looked outstanding as a starter on Tuesday. He did fall into some old traps at points, but overall he came through as the team needed him. Unfortunately, the bullpen blew his lead when Brandon Workman struggled to find the zone (and was squeezed a bit) before Ryan Brasier came in and gave up a huge home run. The offense also can’t be let off the hook, as they struggled to get much going against J.A. Happ and company, and when they did they failed to get the big hit. A frustrating night, and the division-clinching will have to wait at least one more day.
The last time Eovaldi had looked anything better than fine on the mound for the Red Sox, at least as a starter, was the last time he faced the Yankees. He took on his old team shortly after coming to Boston in the trade back in August, and he totally shut them down in one of the best pitching performances from any Red Sox starter this year. Since then, he’s ranged from fine to mediocre to straight-up bad, and the ceiling hasn’t looked particularly high. It’s a foregone conclusion he’ll end up in the bullpen for the postseason, but for now the Red Sox were looking for a repeat performance from his last start against the Yankees, and if they got it they were looking at a third consecutive division title. Officially.
Well, Eovaldi was looking the part, at least by results. That’s not to say he was great, though I’m not sure he looked as strong as his line would indicate. He still has the same issues as before with his velocity-only approach that can become very predictable and hard to finish off at bats. He did get some strikeouts, and there were a couple of grooves where he did look every bit as good as he did back in early August, but ultimately it was more good than great. Still, we’re picking nits here. At the end of the day Eovaldi gave the Red Sox what they were looking for.
The righty came out of the gate firing with a 1-2-3 first that included a strikeout to Andrew McCutchen. It also included a very hard-hit line drive from Aaron Judge — batting in a game for the first time since July — that ended up in J.D. Martinez’ glove. He did allow his first baserunner and first hit with one out in the second, but it was hardly a rocket. Instead, Aaron Hicks broke his bat and had a blooper find its way into right field. Eovaldi came back and got a weak fly ball before striking out Gary Sanchez and leaving without any damage.
The third was the first sign of trouble for Eovaldi, and the point in the game where we saw how his predictability can come back to bite him. To start, though, he lost his control a bit, walking two of his first three batters of the inning. Among those were McCutchen and Gleyber Torres, both of whom came through with long at bats in which they fought off a ton of two-strike pitches. So, Eovaldi had two on with one out and was fighting through a lot of pitches, and Judge was coming to the plate. It was a big spot, and the righty came through. Judge swung at the first pitch and hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat.
After that, Eovaldi got back into another groove, setting down six batters in a row for a pair of perfect innings in the fourth and fifth,
Unfortunately, for as well as the Red Sox starter was throwing, he wasn’t getting a ton of support from his offense. Boston was going up against J.A. Happ, a pitcher who they got to the last time they faced off but one who has bested the Sox more often than not over his career. This was one of those times, as a makeshift Red Sox lineup couldn’t get much done.
They weren’t quite as quiet as New York early in the game, though that’s obviously not setting the bar very high. Steve Pearce did reach on a one-out walk in the first, and in the second the Red Sox got two on with a Brock Holt walk and Christian Vazquez single. None of the three baserunners would score, however, and the Red Sox were in a scoreless game heading into the third.
There, they finally got things going a bit against Happ, though some mistakes by the Yankees certainly played a big role as well. The Red Sox will take ‘em however they can get ‘em, of course. Ian Kinsler started that inning with a base hit, and then he’d move to second when Happ flinched and was called for a balk. After Steve Pearce walked, both runners moved up a base on a passed ball from Sanchez. So, Boston had a huge chance with two in scoring position and nobody out. They did get one run on a Martinez sacrifice fly, but that’s all they’d manage. It was a disappointing outcome, even if they got the lead.
After going down in order in the fourth and fifth, the score was still 1-0 heading into the sixth. Eovaldi was throwing great, but it still felt as though Boston needed some insurance. They looked poised to get it here, too. Xander Bogaerts got a rally started with a one-out double, then Eduardo Núñez followed it up with a flare into center field. Unfortunately, Bogaerts misread the flare off the bat and that caused him to stay at third rather than scoring. That was big, because Brandon Phillips popped up for the second out and Brock Holt struck out, stranding runners on the corners and keeping the lead at just one.
In the bottom of the inning, the Yankees immediately looked ready to take advantage. Gleyber Torres started off the inning and ripped one into the left field corner for a leadoff double. Eovaldi came back after that and got a pair of fly outs — with Judge’s on the second out coming just shy of the short porch in right field — and Torres moved to third with two down for Didi Gregorius. On a 2-2 count, Eovaldi came inside and hit the Yankees shortstop in the foot, but that turned out to be a break. Had it missed Gregorius, it likely would have gotten by Vazquez and allowed the tying run to score. Instead, there were runners on the corners for Giancarlo Stanton, and Eovaldi got him swinging on a high fastball to end the inning without any damage.
After Boston failed to get anything in the top of the seventh, Brandon Workman came on for the bottom half of the inning. The righty did not look good as he struggled with his control. He tried time and again to get his curveball over for a strike, but he wasn’t getting the close ones and left a few too many far out of the zone. He’d face only three batters, recording one out and allowing two walks before Ryan Brasier came in with two on and one out. He also did not do well. After getting to a 3-2 count against Neil Walker, Brasier hung a slider right over the heart of the plate and the Yankees infielder blasted one into the right-field seats, suddenly putting New York up 3-1.
Now, it was up to the offense to get something going and score at least two runs with six outs to play with. They did get a chance in the eighth when Martinez smacked a one-out triple, but they couldn’t come through in that chance.
In the ninth, they had another chance thanks to more Yankees mistakes. Zach Britton was in for New York and Holt drew a one-out walk. It appeared that Vazquez had followed that up with a double play, but Miguel Andujar’s throw was off and instead Boston had runners on the corners with one out for pinch hitter Sam Travis. He hit what looked like another double play ball, but once again the Yankees couldn’t make the throw to second. This time it was Britton with the bad throw, and Holt scored to cut the lead to one. There were now two on with one out for Kinsler. He hit into another double play ball, but this time the Yankees converted it and the game was over.
So, the Red Sox will have to wait until tomorrow night to ty again at clinching this division. They’ll have David Price on the mound for that one and he’ll take on Luis Severino. First pitch comes at 7:05 PM ET.