HOUSTON — Nathan Eovaldi didn’t enter October on most people’s list of potential postseason difference-makers.
The former Yankee is on it now, maybe near the top.
The hard-throwing righthander, the second-most famous pitcher to come from Alvin, Texas (Nolan Ryan retired the trophy on that one), pitched six strong innings Tuesday in leading the Red Sox to an 8-2 victory over the Astros in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park.
“Nate’s been amazing,” said Jackie Bradley Jr., whose grand slam off reliever Roberto Osuna capped a five-run eighth. “He’s kind of been that unsung hero for us.”
The win gave the Red Sox a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and returned the home-field advantage they lost in Game 1. Game 4 is Wednesday night in Houston.
Steve Pearce broke a 2-2 tie with a solo homer off former Met Joe Smith in the sixth inning and Bradley, whose three-run double off the Green Monster keyed the 7-5 victory in Game 2, sent many of the 43,102 heading home with the sixth grand slam in Red Sox postseason history.
“Two games in a row, where Bradley’s been in this spot to have the big at-bat and he’s won them,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
The story, however, was Eovaldi, who allowed two runs and six hits over six innings, which followed an outstanding start in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Yankees, in which he allowed one run and five hits in seven innings. Three of the hits Tuesday came in the first inning and one of the runs should have been unearned as it came on Alex Bregman double in the fifth that scooted under the glove of third baseman Rafael Devers, who should have been charged with an error.
Ryan, still an Astros adviser and in attendance, watched Eovaldi, who has added an effective cutter to complement his high-90s fastball.
“I try not to put any added pressure on myself,” said Eovaldi, who before the start at Yankee Stadium never had pitched in a postseason game. “Try to go out there and do what I know I can do.”
Eovaldi met Ryan, a childhood hero, in June 2015 during batting practice in a game here when he was with the Yankees. He said he was aware Ryan was sitting in his usual spot behind the plate but wasn’t focused on it.
“I had a lot of friends and family here tonight at the game so it was definitely a special game for me,” said Eovaldi, whose timing these playoffs couldn’t be any better as he’s a free agent at season’s end. “I’m definitely thankful for them showing up and all of the support.”
Houston lefthander Dallas Keuchel allowed two runs and four hits, three of them to the first three batters of the game, over five innings.
Eovaldi was the victim of some good-natured trolling on Monday by Bregman, the Astros third baseman who put on another gold-glove display in the field. Bregman posted an Instagram video of Eovaldi’s last start in this building, June 20 while a member of the Rays, when he allowed back-to-back-to-back homers.
The pitcher shrugged off the video, which Bregman deleted later in the day, saying, “I’m a completely different pitcher” than he was in June.
Some Red Sox, including Pearce, weren’t as nonchalant about it.
“We do our talking on the field,” Pearce told a reporter from Boston’s WEEI on Monday. “If he wants to run his mouth now we’ll see who is talking at the end of the series.”
A series the Red Sox now are two victories from closing out.