Since Sunday gone, a great number of words have been spared for Nathan Eovaldi and his Herculean feats in the 2018 World Series. He was, it’s been said, the inspiration for his Boston Red Sox team’s come from behind Game Four win, the horse who put his team on his back in a losing Game Three effort having ridden in from the bullpen for the club to crest Games One and Two.
His efforts brought fellow Red Sox starter Rick Porcello to tears. They took the lion’s share of putative World Series MVP David Price’s valedictory press conference once the put-upon ace was done dragging the Boston media, in a pointed, but earned, act of retribution.
History will document how, as the 2013 Sox had done it for ‘our fucken’ city’, the 2018 team had done it for Nate.
We should, then, talk about this picture. The one at the head of this piece.
Take a moment to scroll back up there and look at it closely.
It is a perfect picture.
The object – Eovaldi – is so clear that you can see the emotion wrought on his face, the background a blur of joy on the verge of eruption. Like an artistic masterpiece it conveys its emotion with immediacy, but rewards those looking at it with each repeat peek, with closer inspection.
The shot is taken at precisely the right moment.
Max Muncy hasn’t yet the confidence to wheel away in glory, having brought this torture to an end.
But Eovaldi knows.
His head is facing skywards, yet tilted down.
His cap is lifted gently from his forehead in dismay.
His eyes; instantaneously almost welled with tears. Deep pools to the core of his soul.
‘I have failed. I am failure. All of this, for nothing.’
It is the picture for which Eovaldi was born, the picture which will define his career in baseball.
If you look at old pictures of Nathan Eovaldi, even in his days as a 21 year old starter with the LA Dodgers, his puckish, sturdy handsomeness belied a man who appeared to have ‘seen things’. Much of this may be owing to the dark nights of the soul spent recuperating from Tommy John surgery as a High School junior in his native Texas, and which were doubled down following his second ‘TJ’ whilst with the Yankees.
Add to this the weight of expectation. For his entire career, Eovaldi has been a whirr of potential. The greatest starter who never was. All talent, and no execution.
That must bore away at a man.
Look then to the mugshot taken for Eovaldi as he began his latest comeback as part of the 2018 Tampa Bay Rays. Charitably you’d call him ‘put upon’, honestly you’d call him ‘terrified’.
And yet this latest iteration of Nathan Eovaldi is the one who broke free of his demons; who fulfilled his potential. Pictures of Eovaldi in midseason flow with Rays and Red Sox show a man with laser focus, a man who has shaken everything off and is enjoying baseball.
The type of guy who’d demand the ball in back-to-back games, and throw in relief until his arm hung off or the game was ended.
This, then, is the Nathan Eovaldi we see in the bottom of the 18th inning. At 12.23am as the ball lifts skywards from Max Muncy’s bat.
The Nathan Eovaldi to whom it has happened again. Whose broad, quarterback’s shoulders immediately sag. Who is propped up by a cadre of emotional team-mates.
This is the Nate Eovaldi who inspired a team, and took the plaudits and laurels as a result.
In this single moment of forlorn, unremitting, existential doom, Eovaldi was the pitcher who galvanised the spirit of his compatriots.
That instant of downcast dread is the one in which the Red Sox sought to ‘win it for Nate’.
It is a perfect sporting photo, mixing action with conflicting emotion. A modern day renaissance master.
It is the photo that won the World Series.