Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi derailed by quirky Tropicana Field

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 10: Nathan Eovaldi #17 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch in the first inning during a MLB game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on September 10, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 10: Nathan Eovaldi #17 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch in the first inning during a MLB game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on September 10, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

A fluke play derailed Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi in Tampa Bay.

Boston Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi was handed his first loss in what was undoubtedly his worst outing of the season but the right-hander deserved better.

Eovaldi was cruising through the first few innings, retiring 11 of the first 13 Tampa Bay Rays hitters he faced. He found himself in a bit of a jam during the fourth inning when he walked Yoshi Tsutsugo with two outs. The fastball on a 3-2 count appeared to catch the inside of the strike zone. As Dennis Eckersley would say, “ya gotta have it!” Unfortunately, the home plate umpire wouldn’t give it to him, instead rewarding the hitter with a free pass to first base.

The inning should have been over at this point but we can’t gripe much about an umpire’s missed call on a borderline pitch. It happens. While getting that called third strike would have prevented the inning for unraveling, the real turning point was yet to come.

A Joey Wendle single put two runners on with two outs in the inning. The pressure was mounting but Eovaldi still had an opportunity to escape.

Hunter Renfroe popped up the first pitch he saw for what should have been a routine out in foul territory. Third baseman Rafael Devers camped under the ball, only for it to drastically change course after striking the catwalk hanging high above Tropicana Field.

Umpires were initially confused about whether the ball was in play. What were the rules pertaining to the hanging structures in this quirky ballpark? Where did the ball land? Eovaldi, who pitched briefly for the Rays in 2018, admitted to reporters after the game that he wasn’t certain of the rules and assumed the ball was dead.

After taking a moment to discuss, it was ruled that the ball landed in foul territory and was thus a foul ball. Instead of an inning-ending out, Eovaldi merely had strike one. This was no harmless foul ball, as it gave the Rays new life when their momentum should have been stalled.

Two pitches later, Renfroe laced a two-run double to deep center field to give the Rays a 2-1 lead. The damage would be limited to those two runs in the inning but it was enough to derail Eovaldi’s promising start.

"“You think that ball, we would have caught, but you never know,” said manager Ron Roenicke. “It certainly changed things, no question."

Tampa Bay would end up holding on to that lead, tacking on two more runs in the following frame before Eovaldi departed.

The final line for the Red Sox starter – 5 innings, 4 earned runs, 6 hits, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts. The outing inflated his stellar 2.45 ERA all the way to 3.94, completely altering the perception that Eovaldi was successfully assuming the mantle of the staff ace.

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That stat line would look completely different if it weren’t for one fluke play with a ball hitting the catwalk. It otherwise could very easily have been his third consecutive start allowing two runs or fewer. He almost certainly would have pitched deeper into the game considering he left after only 85 pitches, a pitch count that would have been lower to that point in the game if he hadn’t been forced to throw six extra pitches to get out of the fourth inning following the catwalk incident.

NESN analyst Jerry Remy referred to Tropicana Field as a circus, an amusement park. He’s not wrong. The ridiculous features of the antiquated ballpark have often led to bizarre plays. Depending on which catwalk or lighting structure the ball hits, it could be a foul ball, a dead ball or a home run. This obviously isn’t a concern in an open stadium but other parks protected by a dome don’t have this issue.

Sometimes these lucky breaks go in your favor but it never seems to benefit a struggling team. The 3-8 Red Sox certainly aren’t catching any breaks.

Did this fourth-inning fluke ultimately matter in a game the Red Sox lost 5-1? We’ll never know. It certainly mattered for Eovaldi’s stat sheet. Boston’s starter could have lasted longer in the game, potentially preventing the Rays from getting at least one of those additional runs they would later tack on.

Even if the Rays still got those runs in the fifth and seventh innings, a 3-1 deficit is far easier to overcome than 5-1.  Red Sox hitters could have approached their at-bats differently if they only needed to scrap together a pair of runs rather than press for a big inning when they needed to score twice as many runs late in the game.

Next. Devers makes outstanding defensive play. dark

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the results of this game shouldn’t diminish Eovaldi’s excellent start to the season. Those two runs charged to him in the fourth inning clearly weren’t his fault. This wasn’t a poor outing for Eovaldi. It’s one that got away from him due to the quirky nature of his environment. That’s the Trop for you. Strange things happen in that ballpark and there’s nothing you can do but hope the next bizarre play works out in your favor.