Red Sox

‘It means a lot’: Eduardo Rodriguez, Alex Cora react to the lefty’s strong start in Game 4 win

Rodriguez pitched five-plus innings, allowing just two runs after a lackluster Game 1 start.

Alex Cora congratulates Eduardo Rodriguez following his Game 4 start. Photo by: Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Eduardo Rodriguez originally wasn’t supposed to start Game 4 of the ALDS on Monday. Nick Pivetta was the man penciled in for the start, but that plan blew up when the Red Sox used him for four innings of relief in their Game 3 win a day prior.

So, Red Sox manager Alex Cora didn’t have much of a choice but to start Rodriguez for the series-clinching Game 4, even if he had just three days rest and was unimpressive in his Game 1 start.

In Thursday’s Game 1, Rodriguez pitched just 1 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on two hits, two walks, and one strikeout. On Monday, he threw more strikeouts by the end of the first inning than he did on Thursday, striking out Wander Franco and Brandon Lowe to retire the side in order.

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Rodriguez said it was “really special” for him to get the opportunity just to start on Monday after his start in Game 1.

“I mean, coming into the game I was feeling really good,” Rodriguez said. “When I got into the bullpen and I was warming up for the game, I was feeling really good. I know everything, I know my pitches. It was a relief to get a second chance.”

Rodriguez continued to pitch strongly, retiring every Rays hitter in his first time through the order. A Randy Arozarena single to start the fourth didn’t deter him, either, retiring the next three batter after the Red Sox went up 5-0 in the inning prior.

Rodriguez did allow a run in the fifth, with Jordan Luplow scoring after he advanced on a fly out and fielder’s choice. But Rodriguez didn’t pitch himself into trouble in Game 4 like he did in Game 1, going five-plus innings without a walk.

There was one difference Rodriguez felt was noticeable from his Game 4 start compared to his Game 1 start.

“Fastball location,” Rodriguez said. “If you have your fastball location, the rest of your pitches are going to work pretty good. As a starting pitcher, that’s the first thing you have to have in order to have a good game. If you locate your fastball, the rest is money.”

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Rodriguez faced just one hitter in the sixth, allowing a leadoff double to Kevin Keirmaier. Cora recalled Rodriguez’s start in Game 4 of the 2018 World Series, which came after Nathan Eovaldi – who was scheduled to start that game – pitched six innings of relief the evening prior.

“It was very similar to what he did in LA (in 2018),” Cora said. “We burned our starter yesterday trying to get the win knowing that Eddie was capable. He’s talented.

“The same thing he did in LA, except the manager took him out earlier in this one than leaving him in with two on, facing a righty,” Cora joked.

Keirmaier did score later in the inning when Tanner Houck allowed a two-run homer to Wander Franco. But Cora was more than satisfied with Rodriguez’s performance, calling it “outstanding.”

“He was amazing. Good fastball. Good changeup. Good cutter,” Cora said. “That lineup lately against lefties has been really, really good. They’ve been hitting the ball hard, starting with Randy [Arozarena] – he’s been amazing. Wander [Franco] from the right side is very dangerous.

“Eddie – he was great. I’m very happy for him. Everybody knows what happened last year and the up and downs of this season. For him to go out there and give us a chance to win, it means a lot.”

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As Cora alluded to, Rodriguez missed the entire 2020 season due to myocarditis, a heart condition that followed his bout with COVID-19. In his first year back, Rodriguez didn’t live up to the ace billing that many hoped for him, going 13-8 with a 4.74 ERA in the regular season.

Cora shared how happy he and the rest of the Red Sox were for Rodriguez after how the last year has gone for him.

“They love him in that clubhouse,” Cora said. “He’s been here for a while. He’s been through a lot as a player with his injuries, and last year with health, and he’s one of the favorites. He’s grown to become a leader too. You see him, the way he goes about his business, the way he approaches the game, the way he prepares now physically.

“You see the difference. If you put videos of Eddie two years ago and now, physically he’s another guy. He understands his strengths and weaknesses, and he keeps making adjustments. Four days ago, whatever it was, he got humble in a sense. I mean, 1 2/3 in Game 1 of the ALDS, and he worked hard between starts to get to this point, and he was amazing tonight.”

With goggles on after celebrating with his teammates, Rodriguez kept things in perspective, too.

“It means a lot. It means everything,” Rodriguez said. “After everything I went through, to have the chance to be here and blowing champagne with my teammates is something I really appreciate it. Just say thanks to God for giving me the opportunity to be here.”

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