BOSTON (AP) — Nathan Eovaldi wants the ball, the pressure, the chance to extend Boston’s season — all of it.
“I love it,” he said Thursday, a day before he was scheduled to face Houston in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series, which the Astros lead three games to two.
“I feel like this is what everybody wants to do,” Eovaldi said. “Every guy in the locker room wants to be able to start tomorrow and be able to be in this situation, and I’m thankful that I get to be here and be able to do it. There’s just something about when everything is on the line, and I think it brings the best out of us.”
The Red Sox split the first two games in the series in Houston, earning an opportunity to advance to the World Series in Boston. But after winning Game 3 in a second straight rout to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven ALCS, the offense has stalled while the Astros’ has awakened.
Now the series returns to Houston for two games — if necessary. Astros rookie Luis Garcia, who was the loser in Game 2, is scheduled to face Eovaldi in Game 6 on Friday.
“We feel good about him,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “He is throwing the ball well down there. I think we’ll make a few adjustments with their lineups. And we’re rested, the bullpen is rested, so we’ll do everything possible tomorrow to win that game, and then we’ll move forward to the next one.”
A 31-year-old right-hander who came to the Red Sox at the 2018 trade deadline, Eovaldi became a fan favorite in Boston when he pitched six-plus innings of relief in the 18-inning third game of the 2018 World Series against the Dodgers. The Red Sox lost, but he was credited with saving the bullpen for wins in Games 4 and 5.
Eovaldi beat Yankees ace Gerrit Cole in the AL wild-card game and pitched five innings in Boston’s win over Tampa Bay in Game 3 of the Division Series. He also came through on Saturday in Game 2 of the ALCS, when he pitched 5 1/3 innings for the win.
But when Cora called him out of the bullpen in Game 4 on Tuesday, he gave up four runs while retiring just two batters.
“He has been great this whole postseason, throughout the most part of his career, he has done a great job,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts said. “Bringing back a lot of memories in 2018, all the special things that he did back in those last couple of years ago.”
Three days later, Eovaldi is Boston’s best chance to extend the series. He said pitching on two day’s rest won’t limit his pitch count.
“I don’t think there’s any limitations,” he said. “My arm feels good, and mentally I’m going to be ready and prepared for this game.”
Also Thursday: Cora said Kevin Plawecki, who has been catching Eovaldi’s starts, will play instead of Christian Vázquez; the rest of the lineup is expected to be the same.
The Red Sox also reinstated righty Phillips Valdez from the COVID-19 injured list. Outfielder Franchy Cordero, who was acquired in the trade that sent Andrew Benintendi to Kansas City, was designated for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.
Valdez was 2-0 with a 5.85 ERA this season before going on the IL on Sept. 12 and missing the rest of the season. He would not be eligible for the postseason unless the team needs an injury replacement.
Cordero hit .189 with one home run and nine RBIs this season, while also playing 78 games for Triple-A Worcester.
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