BOSTON — When the Yankees acquired Nathan Eovaldi nearly four years ago, they were making a bet: that a young pitcher with a 100 mile-per-hour fastball and a favorable contract would find a way to flourish.
On Saturday, they got front-row confirmation that they were right.
Unfortunately, for the Yankees, Eovaldi was not pitching for them, but against them. He delivered eight shutout innings on Saturday to carry the Boston Red Sox to a 4-1 victory, which was assured only after a tense ninth inning when a jittery Craig Kimbrel retired Greg Bird on a fly ball with the bases loaded to end the game.
It was the Yankees’ third consecutive loss in this series at Fenway Park, and it dropped them to a season-high eight and a half games behind the Red Sox in the American League East.
The Yankees will start Masahiro Tanaka against David Price on Sunday night, hoping to avoid a sweep. To do so, they will need their offense to reawaken.
The Yankees managed only three singles against Eovaldi, after being held to one hit by Rick Porcello on Friday night. Eovaldi (5-4) got all the support he needed in the first inning, when Mitch Moreland hit a two-run homer off Chance Adams, who was making his major league debut.
Adams, a 23-year-old right-hander, was summoned from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to replace the recently acquired J.A. Happ, who contracted hand, foot and mouth disease. A converted reliever, Adams pitched credibly through five innings, but it was not enough to match Eovaldi, who turned in his second consecutive dazzling performance since the Red Sox acquired him from Tampa Bay on July 25. He threw seven shutout innings in a 3-0 win over Minnesota last week.
There may have been some poignancy to Saturday’s game for Eovaldi. His last game for the Yankees came here nearly two years ago to the day. He left after 12 pitches with elbow discomfort. It turned out he had a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament and the flexor tendon shearing off the bone.
Eovaldi underwent surgery and was released by the Yankees, knowing that he would miss all of the 2017 season.
He signed with Tampa Bay, and after an extensive rehabilitation, returned at the end of May.
The time off gave Eovaldi the chance to refashion his repertoire — adding a cut fastball that he leaned on heavily and mastering the use of his fastball at the top of the strike zone.
“You go for six months without throwing a ball, so you get to redevelop yourself and relearn your mechanics,” said Eovaldi, who also was determined to reduce his walk rate when he returned. “It’s a little easier to break some of those bad habits that you had created for yourself. So, for me throwing up in the zone, it’s been effective.”
If the rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees was nothing new to Eovaldi, the same could not be said for Adams.
He walked into the visitor’s clubhouse on Saturday afternoon with a trucker’s cap on backward and his eyes wide open, scanning the room for his locker, which was in the far corner, next to reliever Chad Green’s. Hanging there was uniform No. 43 — the one that belonged to Adam Warren before he was traded to Seattle last week.
Kyle Higashioka, who caught Adams frequently in the minor leagues over the last three seasons, said he mixed four pitches well and had good command of a lively fastball. But what stood out most to Higashioka was Adams’s demeanor.
“I don’t think a lot of things faze him,” Higashioka said. “You know he’s not going to panic if it’s not going well, and he’s not going to get carried away if he’s not doing great. He’s always looking to take care of business.”
Adams may have been bothered by errant pitches on Saturday — a slowly spinning slider that Moreland clubbed over the right-field wall and a belt-high fastball that J.D. Martinez drove over the Green Monster — but he seemed at ease in the environment.
After Moreland’s homer, Adams retired nine consecutive batters — though several balls were stung — before Martinez homered with one out in the fourth, his 33rd of the season. Adams followed that by walking Xander Bogaerts, but bounced back by inducing Eduardo Nunez to ground into a full-count, 6-4-3 double play. Adams then pitched an orderly fifth before coming off the field to a high-five from Manager Aaron Boone.