Red Sox rally behind Eduardo Nunez in walk-off win

BOSTON, MA - JULY 29: Eduardo Nunez
BOSTON, MA - JULY 29: Eduardo Nunez /

Eduardo Nunez has been a spark plug in his brief time with the Boston Red Sox, carrying the team to a victory Saturday night against the Royals.

It’s hard to make a better first impression than the one Eduardo Nunez is making with the Boston Red Sox. We are only two games into his tenure with the team, yet Nunez is already showing he can be the spark plug this team needs to awaken from their mid-season slumber.

Nunez is 5-for-9 (.556) with a 1.822 slugging percentage through his first two games in a Red Sox uniform. He introduced himself to the Fenway faithful with a two-hit game in his debut, then followed that with perhaps the most memorable performance of his career.

The 30-year old infielder carried the Red Sox to victory Saturday night with a pair of home runs. He’s the first player to record at least two home runs in either his first or second game with the franchise since Gabe Kapler in 2003.

As vital as those solo shots were in a game that ended up going to extra-innings, the most valuable plate appearance from Nunez was one where he didn’t even record a hit. The box score will show it was a ground out to the shortstop, yet it drove in the winning run in the bottom of the 10th to seal a walk-off win.

We’d be remiss not to mention the outstanding base running by Sandy Leon on that final play. His hesitation leaving third base led the infielders to believe he would hold, forcing the Royals to take the sure out at first base. Leon made a delayed dash for home plate as catcher Drew Butera prepared to receive the throw from first. The ball beat Leon to the plate, but an acrobatic dive evaded the tag as Leon managed to sneak his hand in safely to score the winning run.

As for Nunez, he did his job by putting the ball in play. A strikeout or shallow pop up would do the Red Sox no favors. A slow chopper up the middle that forced the shortstop to dive for it presented an opportunity for Leon to scramble home.

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This was the second career walk-off RBI for Nunez, 11 days after he recorded his first as a member of the San Francisco Giants. He’s currently riding a six-game hitting streak during which he’s 14-for-25 (.560) at the plate. Nunez has hit safely in 40 of his last 44 games. During that span he’s hitting .363, the third highest average in the majors among hitters with 100+ at-bats.

The acquisition of Nunez was only mildly endorsed by Red Sox fans. He hits for a solid average, but doesn’t provide enough of the power this lineup sorely lacks. He provides a solid veteran presence to take over a third base position where the Red Sox rank last in the league in OPS, but most fans are ready for the future to begin with Rafael Devers at the hot corner. The rookie is off to a strong start in his own right, yet Nunez is still proving his worth.

While Nunez doesn’t pack as much power potential as Devers, the pop he does have may be a bit understated. His career-high 16 home runs came while playing primarily in San Francisco’s pitcher-friendly park. The ball seems to jump off his bat in a way that suggests extra-base hits should be plentiful. He may not have the raw power to drive the ball out of the cavernous outfield of AT&T Park, but his pop will play much better at Fenway where the short left field wall is far more inviting to his right-handed swing. He showed that Saturday night by blasting both of his home runs into the Monster seats.

Prior to last season, Nunez hadn’t played in more than 91 games since his rookie season in 2011. The lack of playing time muted his power numbers as much as the park effects. Extrapolate his production over a full season hitting in Boston and he could end up hitting 20+ home runs. While that’s no better than average for a third base position typically known to house some of the game’s top sluggers, it’s light years beyond what the Red Sox have been getting at the hot corner.

The Red Sox will certainly want to see what they can get from Devers, but it doesn’t necessarily have to come at the expense of Nunez. The veteran infielder can cover other positions, as he is on Sunday filling in for Dustin Pedroia at second base. He can also serve as the DH against lefties while Hanley Ramirez covers first base, or take over at third if the team decides to sit Devers against southpaws.

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Adding Nunez gives manger John Farrell a number of options to tinker with. He’ll be given plenty of chances to prove himself down the stretch and thus far Nunez is running with those opportunities. The trade to bring him to Boston may have flown a bit under the radar, yet Nunez could end up being the spark this team needs to reclaim the division lead.