This is both a love letter and a divorce story.
Seeing Nathan Eovaldi acknowledge the crowd earlier this week as his team advanced deeper into the postseason reminded me of how much I love the guy. Of course, he was wearing the wrong uniform – the Texas Rangers instead of the Red Sox – but never mind that now.
I’m an extremely loyal fan so it’ll come as no surprise that I’ve been rooting for Eovaldi from almost the first moment I saw him, which was early in August 2018, not long after he’d been traded to the Red Sox from the Rays.
I was spending the weekend in Portland, Oregon, and the Sox were playing the Yankees. At that time, a lifetime ago, they were duking it out at #1 and #2 in the standings.
I was there for my wedding anniversary, except that I was alone. At the very beginning of the baseball season, I had learned I was getting a divorce. Coincidentally but thankfully, this aligned with the start of the baseball season, and the Red Sox started off hot. I needed that distraction. In the midst of going to lawyer’s appointments and the sadness of losing friends and in-laws, and all the other difficult things going on at that time, each day’s game became a lifeline for me.
The Sox, without even knowing that I needed them, stepped up for me. At the end of the day, I could check the Sox score and – what do you know – usually something good had happened. There was another win in the column and I could busy myself with reading about another JD Martinez or Rafael Devers home run (often both), sparkling defense (imagine that!) and immerse myself, at least for a little while, in this glorious world where everything went right. I looked forward to their game every day, and I needed it. On 108 different days, something good happened because the Red Sox won, and many days, as far as I was concerned, that was the only good thing that happened.
My anniversary in Portland was by design, to do something fun and take my mind off things. It was a coincidence that the Sox were playing the Yankees that weekend and of course, I went to a bar to watch the game. Eovaldi, who had just joined the team, was pitching. I remember telling the servers at the bar about our new pitcher and somehow got them invested in rooting for him, and the Sox too. (There’s no ingrained baseball loyalty in Portland, OR, so I suppose it wasn’t that difficult to do. And I loved their enthusiasm. God, I hope I tipped them extravagantly.) Every time a server went by, they asked me how Eovaldi was doing, and how the game was going.
How was he doing?! Well! Over eight innings, he gave up just three hits. He struck out four and walked one. And the Sox beat the Yanks, 4-1. For me, it was a beautiful victory, but it also meant several more hours of poring over victorious stories and stats, and taking my mind off of my own problems. Eovaldi was my new hero.
Whenever I hear people say it’s just a game, I know for sure that’s not totally true. It might not matter to everyone, of course. If you have something else in your life that’s cooking, you might not see it the same way. But if you don’t have much, it can feel like everything. It can be the thing that saves you. The Sox were exactly what I needed in 2018 and so was Eovaldi’s artistry.
I miss him.
And how about that 2018 postseason? Some players rise to the occasion, going above and beyond in the postseason (see: Bryce Harper, Madison Bumgarner, Reggie Jackson and more). Others don’t (see: Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts…yes, I went there; still love the guy though).
My friend Daniel and I (two Massachusetts natives living the Pacific Northwest) met at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Tacoma to catch Game 3 of the World Series against the Dodgers. Eovaldi had done well in the postseason until that point, but this was the day he became a postseason superstar. The game went on for 18 innings – and Eovaldi pitched six of them. In relief. He threw 97 pitches; it was essentially a game within a game. In fact, Eovaldi threw 36 more pitches than our starter Rick Porcello.
Assuming the game would end at a reasonable hour, Daniel had scheduled a date, a first date, for afterwards, and that poor woman – he kept calling her and postponing, a half-hour at a time, because of the extra innings. “I mean, how much longer can it go on?” we asked ourselves.
We were rooted to the spot, though, worried that if we turned our backs for even a minute, the game could turn on a dime. Eventually, good sport that she was, Daniel’s date agreed to come to us. Can you imagine walking into that first-date scenario? She got more than she bargained for, including a third wheel! That’s good people right there.
Eovaldi came on in relief in the bottom of the 12th inning. Over his six-plus innings (he faced one batter in the 18th) he allowed three hits and one earned run (Max Muncy’s game-winning home run). He walked just one and struck out five.
For such a heroic performance (and one that moved Porcello to tears), it was Eovaldi’s first playoff loss, and still one of only three times his team has lost a postseason game he’s pitched in. They’ve won ten.
For his entire postseason career, Eovaldi has a 2.31 ERA in eight starts. In each of those starts, he’s lasted at least five innings and not allowed more than three runs – and even that only happened once.
When he became a free agent, I wanted to re-sign him. I can’t say it any better than Jackie Bradley, Jr., who stated:
“I want him on my side ten out of ten times.” – JBJ
Eovaldi wanted that too, but it ultimately didn’t work out.
“It was just unfortunate it wasn’t able to work out. I mean, you can’t always control everything. Just kind of take what life gives you.” – Nathan Eovaldi
Having seen him at work already (for us), we can’t deny his greatness on the postseason stage. In his first two postseason starts for Texas this year, he allowed only two runs over 13 2/3 innings, with zero walks and 15 strikeouts.
He pitched the Rangers to the American League Division Series win, in a 7-1 trouncing of the Orioles. Eovaldi’s line: over seven innings, he gave up one run, five hits, struck out seven, and once again, walked no one.
“These are the moments you play for as an athlete. I love pitching in these big moments.” - Nathan Eovaldi
He deserved the chance to tip his cap to the crowd as he left the game. Well, I want to tip my cap to him.