HOUSTON — At some point, the incendiary chatter will dissipate and most everything uttered outside of the white lines will fade into the ether. But on Tuesday, what didn’t go unnoticed was who delivered for the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
Red Sox right-hander Nathan Eovaldi stifled the Houston Astros for six innings, setting the table for late-game, series-altering home runs from Steve Pearce and Jackie Bradley Jr. in an 8-2 Boston victory.
Bradley’s eighth-inning grand slam capped the scoring, giving the Red Sox a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Eovaldi served as the target for an off-day social media post curated by Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, with Pearce issuing the strongest rebuke from the Boston clubhouse on Monday.
Eovaldi had surrendered back-to-back-to-back home runs against the Astros while pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays on June 20, a moment Bregman highlighted with a since-deleted Instagram video.
In his first appearance in Houston since, Eovaldi (1-0) allowed two runs on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts. Both run-scoring hits, from Marwin Gonzalez in the first inning and Bregman in the fifth, came with two outs, but the Astros were otherwise silenced in clutch situations, going 1-for-8 overall with runners in scoring position.
Eovaldi met the challenge headlong.
“Nate was outstanding,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “Stuff-wise, he’s one of the best left in October. His fastball, his cutter, he didn’t throw too many breaking balls. He did to Marwin, but overall a great outing.
“He didn’t get caught up in the moment either. For him, I know it was a special one. He’s from the area, and I bet there’s a lot of people, family members in the stands. And for him to be able to slow down the game in the second inning; the game was going very fast to us in the first. And all of a sudden in the second inning he slowed it down, and he did an outstanding job.”
Pearce, who played 21 games for the Astros in 2012, was robbed of a two-RBI hit to close the third when Astros left fielder Tony Kemp produced a marvelous leaping catch at the wall. The grab came in support of left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who limited the Red Sox to two runs over five innings.
In the sixth, Pearce exacted a measure of revenge, snapping a 2-2 tie with a 456-foot blast to left field off Astros right-hander Joe Smith (0-1). After declaring, “We’ll see who is talking at the end of the series,” in response to Bregman, Pearce pivoted and praised Eovaldi afterward.
“You can tell when he’s on early,” Pearce said of Eovaldi, who joined Boston one month after Pearce arrived in late June. “And even throwing strikes and he throws 97-plus on every pitch and it’s cutting, and he’s keeping hitters off balance and he’s very enjoyable playing behind.”
Bradley unleashed the knockout blow for a second consecutive game. It was Bradley who produced a bases-clearing double off Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole that secured the lead for good in Game 2. When he strolled to the plate with the bases loaded and the Red Sox leading 4-2 with two outs in the eighth inning Tuesday, Bradley pounced on fading Astros closer Roberto Osuna.
Osuna, making his first appearance of the series and pitching for the first time since Oct. 6, failed repeatedly to execute with two outs. With one on and two outs, he allowed a single to Rafael Devers on an 0-2 count before plunking consecutive batters, pinch hitters Brock Holt and Mitch Moreland, with two-strike pitches.
Moreland earned an RBI for his trouble before Bradley launched a 1-1 fastball into the right field seats. Bradley was 1-for-17 with the bases loaded during the regular season.
“It looked like a couple of weird things,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of Osuna. “The infield hit to (Xander) Bogaerts. He had a fielder’s choice, a great play by Bregman — his defense is pretty good. And then the hit by pitches. Barely touches Holt. ... And then gets the two-strike count to Moreland and hits him going up and in.
“That sets up the Bradley at-bat, no margin for error. Big swing. So, it was really a matter of he didn’t finish at-bats as well as he normally does, whether it’s going to different pitches or executing the pitch. Execution was a little bit of a problem at the end of at-bats. And he lost a lot of those at-bats at a huge time of the game.”
Four Boston relievers blanked the Astros while allowing just one hit total over the final three innings.
The Astros, riding high after a late-inning rally in Game 1, suddenly find themselves on the other end of a spectrum where a series of near misses worked in favor of their opponent.
“It’s a gamble here, it’s a dogfight,” Keuchel said. “Unfortunately we were on the losing end.”
—MoiseKapenda Bower, Field Level Media