As much obsession and studying and game-planning and weakness-identifying that exists in today’s game, there should not be a whole lot the Yankees can uncover about Tuesday’s Red Sox starting pitcher.
They know Nathan Eovaldi pretty well.
Eovaldi — who spent 2015 and ’16 with the Yankees before a second Tommy John surgery was needed and he hit free agency and an uncertain future — will get one more look at a team he has already faced 15 times.
No game has been larger than Tuesday, though, when the 31-year-old faces off with Gerrit Cole in the wild-card matchup.
Eovaldi is not the $324 million Cole, but the $68 million Boston gave him after he emerged as a key piece in its 2018 World Series run made waves, too.
The Red Sox were gambling there was enough upside in his electric arm to justify the injury risk, which looked like a poor decision in 2019, when elbow surgery limited Eovaldi to 67 ²/₃ ineffective innings.
The decision has looked better this year, in which Eovaldi and his 3.75 ERA made the All-Star team with a fastball that has averaged 96.8 mph, the 11th best in MLB.
Cole’s 97.7 mph is fourth best. All-Star vs. All-Star. Power vs. power.
“I want to be in these situations. I want to compete against the best,” Eovaldi said at Fenway Park on Monday. “I want to compete against the teams that are hottest at that time.”
The Yankees, led by Aaron Judge and his 8-for-20-with-a-homer history against Eovaldi, qualify.
“He’s a high-stakes performer,” Cole said of Eovaldi. “That’s why he’s got a contract and why they wanted to keep him around.
“Incredible postseason run that he made for them and selflessly pitching in huge spots.”
Experience versus experience, too. Eovaldi was brilliant in 22 ¹/₃ innings in the 2018 postseason, when he posted a 1.61 ERA while the Red Sox ended their title drought. Included was seven innings of one-run ball in a Game 3 ALDS victory over the Yankees.
His biggest starts this year have been more uneven. His 3.71 ERA in 34 innings against the Yankees is solid, yet it was ballooned by the Sept. 24 matchup, when the Bombers tagged the righty for seven runs in 2 ²/₃ innings.
Eovaldi bounced back with six shutout innings against Baltimore last week.
“I feel like that’s one of the best things I’ve been able to do this year is rebound after a bad start,” said Eovaldi, who let up a three-run bomb to Giancarlo Stanton in that blowup. “I felt last time I faced these guys, it was a little mechanical, and if you fall behind in the counts, they are going to be able to do damage.”
The Yankees probably will not see Chris Sale, whom Alex Cora said he “most likely” would not use after the lefty threw 62 pitches Sunday.
But Sale is not Boston’s only big-game pitcher.
“Just try not to overthink it,” Eovaldi said. “It’s the same game, just a little bit brighter lights.”
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