BOSTON (AP)Following two weak performances at the plate, the Boston Red Sox now turn to Nathan Eovaldi to try to save their season on just two days’ rest.
The Red Sox were held hitless for four innings Wednesday by left-hander Framber Valdez and managed only three hits in a 9-1 loss to the Houston Astros that left Boston down 3-2 in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series.
”We’ve got to win two games to go to the World Series,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. ”That’s the bottom line.”
Eovaldi came into a tie game in the ninth inning of Game 4 a night earlier, taking the loss when he gave up four runs while getting only two outs.
Now, if he can’t shut down the surging Houston offense, and Boston’s bats don’t break out of their sudden funk, this stirring season will come to an end for the wild-card Red Sox.
Boston has quickly gone from putting up record postseason numbers on offense to the verge of being eliminated.
”I just know from my standpoint, from the hitting standpoint, they’ve just honestly been executing pitches,” Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez said. ”Been really executing pitches. They haven’t left anything over the plate, just nibbling.”
After a day off, Game 6 is Friday night in Houston, with a winner-take-all Game 7 there on Saturday as well, if necessary.
The 31-year-old Eovaldi made his postseason name in Boston by working six-plus innings of relief, saving the bullpen in an 18-inning loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series.
Now, he’ll try to be a postseason hero again for the Red Sox by saving their title hopes.
This year, he outpitched New York ace Gerrit Cole when the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the wild-card game. Eovaldi got a no-decision in a Game 3 start against Tampa Bay in the Division Series, then beat the Astros with an effective start in Game 2 last Saturday when Boston hit two grand slams, one in each of the first two innings.
Following six straight games with 10 or more hits – the longest postseason streak in major league history – the Red Sox were shut down for two consecutive games, turning a 2-1 series edge into a 3-2 deficit.
”I feel like this is a team that this is our story,” Martinez said, looking to the media. ”We’ve been written off all year. Nobody, I don’t think anyone in here either, thought we were going to be here.”
Rafael Devers hit a solo homer for the Red Sox, halting a 14-inning scoreless stretch. It was his eighth postseason homer, joining Mickey Mantle, Albert Pujols and Carlos Correa as the only players in postseason history to hit eight before turning 25.
Boston went scoreless for eight innings in Game 4 on Tuesday night after Xander Bogaerts’ two-run homer in the first. The Red Sox made 15 outs on the ground against Valdez, with many coming off his hard sinker in the upper-90s mph.
”I think their guy was amazing. He was throwing harder than usual. The ball was moving,” Cora said. ”We didn’t hit the ball hard at all. I think we had two fly balls, if I’m not mistaken, and a home run, right? Credit to him. His sinker was unreal tonight.”
In Games 2 and 3, the Red Sox belted a combined three grand slams, becoming the first team with three slams in a postseason series.
But after a blowout victory in Game 3, they were suddenly shut down.
Now, Eovaldi gets another chance to provide postseason magic for Boston.
The Red Sox entered the day with 14 runs scored in just 6 2/3 innings against Houston’s starters.
On Wednesday, ace lefty Chris Sale gave them a solid start, holding the Astros to a run – on Yordan Alvarez’s homer leading off the second inning – before giving up Alvarez’s two-run double that chased him in a five-run sixth.
Sale’s career postseason record fell to 1-3 with a 6.35 ERA.
”I was good for five, and then I (stunk) for one,” Sale said.
The Red Sox got their first hit of the game on Devers’ leadoff single in the fifth. After Valdez hit Martinez on the foot with the next pitch, he got Hunter Renfroe to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play before Alex Verdugo grounded out, ending the inning.
Houston broke it open an inning later and took control of the series.
”It’s tough,” Sale said. ”You know, we came back to Boston exactly where we wanted to be.”
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