Boston Red Sox

Nathan Eovaldi wasn’t supposed to mean this much to the Red Sox

Nathan Eovaldi was never supposed to become a Boston sports hero, but he did anyway. And because of it, he’s not going anywhere.

The Nathan Eovaldi saga in Boston has been one heck of a surprise.

It’s been a pleasant one, no doubt. But still, it seems a little bit unreal. I’m a diehard Red Sox fan — I watched probably 97 percent of their games in 2018, and every single one of their postseason games in October (not exaggerating at all) — and even I didn’t see this coming.

The Red Sox just signed Eovaldi to a four-year deal worth $68 million. If you had told me this would be happening as recently as four months ago, I not only would’ve laughed you out the door, but I would’ve also bought you dinner as a way of saying thank you for providing such great comedic entertainment.

The thought of Eovaldi becoming a beloved fan favorite and folk hero in Red Sox Nation never even came close to crossing my mind — not even once — until I watched it happen right before my very eyes, especially during Game 3 of the World Series. That was an experience like no other, but more on that later.

Bill Simmons, founder and CEO of The Ringer and lifelong Red Sox fan, put it best with this tweet.

As for me, I remember when Dave Dombrowski made the deal for Eovaldi back in late July. Boston’s pitching rotation was facing hurdles as the team tried to power through the dog days of the regular season. Eduardo Rodriguez, in the midst of his best season yet, was out with an injury. Drew Pomeranz pretty much didn’t even exist (although that wasn’t really news). David Price could never be fully trusted, nor could Rick Porcello. And we were all worried that Chris Sale’s lanky left arm was going to fall off before we even reached October.

So as a way to shore up this mildly shaky rotation, Boston dealt for Eovaldi on July 25, sending minor league pitcher Jalen Beeks to Tampa Bay in exchange for him. I knew about Eovaldi as he was no stranger to the AL East, having pitched for both the Yankees and the Rays. But at the time, I was less excited about having a new starter in the rotation as I was about being rid of Beeks. Many Red Sox enthusiasts had been very high on Beeks, but all I knew was that in the few occasions he had been brought up to pitch for the Sox, he got absolutely rocked.

I was glad to be rid of the kid, and sure, the addition of Eovaldi wasn’t bad either. He was basically a rental for the stretch run, some added insurance to fill out the bottom part of the rotation. He would be with us for two months, maybe start a few games in the playoffs, and then that would be the end of it. Eovaldi would go his own way after that, as would the Red Sox.

Little did I know just how incredibly mistaken I was.

Eovaldi started winning us over. He began his Red Sox career with seven shutout innings against the Minnesota Twins, then followed that up with eight shutout innings against the Yankees at Fenway Park. Suddenly, we were getting attached to him. Of course, he wasn’t perfect (no athlete ever is), and he had his share of bumps along the way. But he was making Dombrowski look like a sheer genius for basically striking gold from what was nothing more than a generic deal at the trade deadline.

Eventually, October arrived, and the Red Sox started plowing through teams on their way to winning their ninth World Series title in franchise history. That was when Eovaldi, nothing more than just your average right-handed pitcher, became a legend in New England sports.

Make no mistake about it, the Red Sox took pride in their starting rotation. They had Price and Porcello, two former Cy Young winners. And they had Sale, who is one of the most dominant starters in Major League Baseball. And yet, Boston’s most reliable pitcher in the 2018 postseason was Eovaldi. If the Red Sox had their own private Cy Young award for the playoffs, Eovaldi would’ve been the recipient, and there wouldn’t have even been a debate about it.

He pitched seven innings at Yankee Stadium in Game 3 of the division series, holding the Bronx Bombers to just one run. In Game 3 of the ALCS at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Eovaldi gave up two runs in six innings, getting the win over the defending world champion Astros. As Sox fans, we just wanted a guy like Eovaldi to keep us in ballgames and give us a puncher’s chance to win. We never could’ve expected him to turn into an ace-type pitcher.

And then, there was Game 3 of the World Series … that infamous, wild, crazy 18-inning affair at Dodger Stadium that left anybody who watched the game feeling like they had just walked off the set of “The Walking Dead.” The Dodgers won the game after a Max Muncy walk-off homer in the bottom of the 18th, but the story, and the MVP, of the game, was none other than — you guessed it — Nathan Eovaldi.

Scheduled to be the Game 4 starter the very next night, Eovaldi was called upon in the 12th inning for some relief work. All he did was throw 97 pitches out of the bullpen, keeping the Dodgers scoreless until his gas tank was empty, and Muncy cashed in on it.

Eovaldi took the loss in that game, the only game in the 2018 World Series the Red Sox would lose. It didn’t matter. We were hooked. We loved this guy. He was a hero. He literally gave us everything he had, and we could see it. We weren’t even upset that we had just spent seven hours watching an 18-inning game that was going to end up in disappointment. We were just in awe of Eovaldi.

It was one of the single best pitching performances in Red Sox history, right up there with Curt Schilling’s “bloody sock game” in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, among many others. It was something special, something that you could only experience in October.

I never could’ve imagined that Eovaldi would take The Nation on a ride like he did this year. I never could have guessed that he would become such a fan favorite among one of baseball’s most dedicated fan bases — one that was recently ranked third (and first in Major League Baseball) as part of FanSided’s Fandom 250.

Could anybody have predicted it? After all, Eovaldi was just supposed to be a two-month rental, eventually to be nothing more than an afterthought following the 2018 season. That isn’t happening. He became a beloved member of Red Sox Nation and a folk hero in the New England sports scene … completely out of nowhere.

Next: Which recent Red Sox World Series team was the best?

And that’s why we are happy to see that he’s coming back, even if it is at the cost of $17 million per year. When a fan base becomes attached to a player, we just want to see more of him. Eovaldi will forever be a postseason hero, and because of it, he’s going to get raucous ovations every time he takes the mound for a home start at Fenway. Incredibly, he has found a new home in one of the country’s most crazed baseball cities.

Thus, the Nathan Eovaldi saga continues into 2019 and beyond. I still can’t believe it.

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