Red Sox

Alex Cora explained why he pitched Nathan Eovaldi in the 9th inning of Game 4

Eovaldi gave up four runs with the game tied on Tuesday.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Red Sox pitcher Nate Eovaldi allowed a tiebreaking single to the Astros' Jason Castro in the ninth inning.

With the game tied 2-2 entering the ninth inning of Game 4 in the ALCS, Alex Cora didn’t want one of his usual top bullpen arms.

The Red Sox manager called on Nathan Eovaldi to pitch the ninth. Prior to Game 4, Garrett Whitlock had pitched the ninth inning in games that were tied so far this postseason. But with Tuesday being Eovaldi’s bullpen day, Cora planned to have the starter pitch out of the bullpen in Game 4. With Whitlock pitching the seventh and eighth innings, Cora thought the ninth worked best for Eovaldi.

“He was going to give us one inning and we felt right there – in that pocket – was good for him,” Cora said. “I wasn’t going to use him in extra innings because I get tempted to use him for six. So, I decided to use him for the ninth – and it didn’t work.”

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Eovaldi looked like his usual self in his first few pitches, even throwing a 100 mile-per-hour pitch to Carlos Correa. However, Correa connected on a 99 mile-per-hour fastball low-and-away in the zone, driving it to right field for a leadoff double.

Following the leadoff double, Eovaldi regained control. He got Kyle Tucker to strike out swinging at a low splitter in just three pitches. After intentionally walking Yuli Gurriel, Eovaldi struck out Aledmys Diaz (who was pinch-hitting for Chas McCormick) swinging on another low splitter.

Eovaldi looked like he was going to get out of the inning clean, especially when he got a 1-2 count on Jason Castro. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Eovaldi threw an 80 mile-per-hour curveball that appeared to hit the outside corner to strike out the lefty, leading him to take a step toward the dugout.

But home plate umpire Laz Diaz never called strike three. Eovaldi got back on the mound and Castro fouled off his next pitch – a high 97 mile-per-hour fastball – before connecting with a splitter that beat the Red Sox’ shift. The base hit allowed Correa to score from second, giving the Astros a 3-2 lead.

Eovaldi admitted after the game that he thought he struck Castro out, but he felt Castro just got the better of him later in the at-bat.

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“I thought it was a strike,” Eovaldi said. “But again, I’m in the moment I’m trying to make my pitches, I’m attacking the zone. I came in the ninth inning and I gave up a double to Correa. I tried to go to work there and tried to get some outs, prevent them from scoring.

“I had two strikeouts and then facing Castro, I felt like I was in control of that at-bat. I felt like I made a good pitch on the outside corner and it didn’t go my way but I’ve got to come back and got to answer back and make another good pitch. I threw a fastball and he fouled it off. I went with the splitter, and I had a good feel for it tonight, and he put a good swing on it and got a base hit.”

Cora acknowledged that Eovaldi was “upset” with the call and that while he hadn’t taken a look at the pitch, he said “a lot of people thought it was a strike.”

But like Eovaldi, Cora tipped his cap to Castro for the go-ahead knock.

“Castro’s put good at-bats against us throughout the series – the home run and the walk against Whit (Whitlock) early on. And then today, he stayed back on that one – well against Whit, he hit a line drive to first and then that one he battled and got the base hit.

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“He’s a good hitter. He’s not playing because the other guy is their guy defensively and they rely on him a lot. Overall, I know his numbers don’t show he had a great season but his approach is always good.”

In the ensuing at-bat, Eovaldi dealt with a full count against Jose Altuve before walking him to load up the bases.

Diaz’s strike zone was the most inaccurate so far this postseason, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Despite the inaccuracy, Eovaldi said he can’t harp on missed ball-strike calls.

“You’re going to get calls that go your way and you’re going to get some that don’t go your way,” Eovaldi said. “Our job is to go out there and keep attacking the zone. Whether we get a pitch that goes our way or doesn’t, we’ve got to move on to the next pitch and not let it affect us and keep attacking the strike zone.”

Martin Perez came in for Eovaldi after the walk to Altuve. In his first pitch out of the bullpen, Perez gave up a bases-clearing double to Michael Brantley to make it 6-2 Astros. The Astros added three more runs against Perez to win 9-2 on Tuesday.

Eovaldi finished by giving up four runs on two hits, two walks (one intentional), and two strikeouts over 2/3 of an inning pitched. Even though Eovaldi’s stat line wasn’t good, Correa thought differently. He did think that Eovaldi pitching just three days prior made them less unprepared than they usually would be in a spot like that.

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“He looked great. He was [throwing] 100,” Correa said. “I haven’t seen the video, but it felt like the one I hit was well-executed away. We saw him not long ago. The element of surprise sometimes is better than the stuff. You don’t see a guy many times. They can get you out because you don’t know what the ball is going to do our what it looks like – if it’s sneaky or it’s hoppy. But we faced Eovaldi not that long ago, so we can remember what we had to do in order for us to get to him.”

Even though Eovaldi pitched in Game 4, he’s still in-line to start Game 6 – which is now necessary after the Astros’ win on Tuesday. But the Red Sox still have to play Game 5, their last at Fenway this series. Chris Sale will start for them in Wednesday’s game.

Despite the series now being a best-of-three and the Astros re-gaining home-field advantage following the disastrous ninth, Cora isn’t panicking.

“There’s not much to say in that clubhouse. We know where we’re at. We knew that – the only thing that was guaranteed after last night was Game 6, right?” Cora said.

“They have a good team. I think it was a good game until the end. We were one pitch away from ending that inning and it didn’t happen. Then they scored seven. We’ll be ready tomorrow, just like every day. You win, you turn the page. You lose, you turn the page and be ready.”

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