Maybe that second Tommy John surgery turned him into a bionic pitcher.
Until the 97th pitch of an outing that was among the most unusual in World Series history, until the 561st pitch of an epic endurance test that sprawled across the night for 18 innings, he finally got beat.
Eovaldi allowed Max Muncy’s opposite-field homer to left-center on a cutter that hung over the high, outside corner, ending the longest World Series game ever after 7 hours, 20 minutes. The Dodgers’ 3-2 win over Boston on Friday cut Los Angeles’ World Series deficit to 2-1.
“After the game was over I started crying,” Red Sox starter Rick Porcello said. “He literally gave everything he had on every single pitch.”
Before this week, Eovaldi had never pitched on consecutive days in his major league career.
Now the 28-year-old right-hander was sent to the mound by manager Alex Cora for the third time in four days. In the World Series. Throwing 98 mph in his seventh inning of relief.
Fastballs and cutters. Occasional sliders and splits. Inning after inning.
“I felt good the whole time. I told AC, ‘I’m good. I want to stay in,'” Eovaldi said in front of the first base dugout after it was over.
He gave a performance for the ages — especially in an era when managers have turned starters and relievers alike into one-batter wonders. It was a throwback to the days when Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale took the Dodger Stadium mound and expected to finish what they started.
After pitching the eighth inning to preserve leads in the first two games of the Series, Eovaldi became Boston’s record-tying ninth pitcher when he entered to start the 12th inning.
He was on the verge of getting the win when second baseman Ian Kinsler made a throwing error that allowed the Dodgers to retie the game in the 13th.
“I feel terrible for Nate,” Kinsler said. “I feel like I let the team down right there.”
Eovaldi was understanding.
“He apologized to me, and I told him he has nothing to apologize for,” Eovaldi said.
Muncy walked leading off the 13th and came home on Kinsler’s error, then nearly won the game in the 15th with a drive over the wall down the right-field line that hooked just foul.
Eovaldi fell behind 3-0 to Muncy leading off the 18th, and then got a called strike followed by a pair of fouls. Muncy drove the next pitch 382 feet onto the stairway in front of the pavilion seats.
“That was the last inning right there,” Cora said. “When he came in, I asked him, ‘How do you feel?’ He’s like, ‘Let me finish it.’ And I’m like, ‘OK.’ I don’t know if I told him, ‘You’ve got one more.'”
Eovaldi threw four more pitches than any member of Boston’s staff had in an outing this postseason. Cora planned to have Drew Pomeranz hit for Eovaldi in the 19th and take the mound in the bottom half.
“I felt privileged to be able to watch what Nathan Eovaldi did,” Porcello said. “That was the most incredible pitching performance I’ve even seen.”
Eovaldi threw more than one-third of Boston’s 283 pitches. Not bad, especially given his past.
He had his first elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2007 when he was a junior at Alvin High School in Texas. He had his second in August 2016 after getting hurt while pitching for the New York Yankees.
New York cut him loose, and Tampa Bay gave him a home for his rehab.
“I’m trusting the doctors and the surgeons that they’re going to do their job. And then trusting the trainers,” Eovaldi said. “I never thought that I wouldn’t be here.”
He was on the verge of returning for the start of this season when the Rays announced near the end of spring training that he had loose bodies in his elbow and needed surgery. That delayed his return to May 30.
After going 3-4 with a 4.26 ERA in 10 starts, he was traded to Boston on July 25 for prospect Jalen Beeks. Eovaldi dropped his ERA to 3.33 in 10 starts and one relief appearance for the Red Sox, his average fastball velocity up to 97-98 mph.
He beat the Yankees in his postseason debut, Game 3 of the Division Series, and then defeated Houston in the third game of the AL Championship Series.
Will everyday Eovaldi volunteer to pitch Saturday?
“Absolutely,” Eovaldi said.
He only seemed to be half-kidding.
By RONALD BLUM, Associated Press