Can he handle the pressure that comes with playing in Boston? That’s the first thing you’ll hear from writers and analysts when the Boston Red Sox sign a high-level free agent, promote a promising prospect, or complete a trade. When you suit up in the same colors as Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, there’s tension at every corner.
The Boston pressure, believe it or not, is no myth: Nomar Garciaparra, Edgar Renteria, Carl Crawford, and many more have very recently fallen victim to the great expectations and mental fatigue the pressure can put forth. David Price, as well, has had his struggles with the duress of pitching in Beantown.
Then there’s Eduardo Nunez. The infielder has handled the stress and anguish of playing in Boston exceptionally well and helped the team separate themselves from the New York Yankees in the American League East race, in which Boston holds a 4.5-game lead.
For Nunez, this is not an unfamiliar feeling, but it’s a change of fate from his early years. The infielder was signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic by the Yankees back in 2004 and made his major-league debut in August 2010. His goal, as set by the New York management, was to allow shortstop Derek Jeter and third baseman Alex Rodriguez to rest adequately and provide periodic relief in the left side of the infield.
If he succeeded, Nunez would be the future replacement for the aging Jeter. However, Nunez failed to become a consistent face in the Yankees’ lineup, playing just 220 games and hitting a decent .267 over four years. He seemingly buckled under expectations and saw the door slam shut on his New York tenure.
His struggles and inconsistencies led to his dismissal from the club, via designation for assignment and eventual trade to the Minnesota Twins. While Nunez earned an All-Star Game berth in 2016 and a trade to a contender in the San Francisco Giants at the trade deadline the same year, the 30-year-old has simply been an average player.
When Dave Dombrowski sent the Giants two minor-league pitchers for Nunez, it was a deal made purely out of desperation. Nunez was having a relatively good year, but wasn’t exactly lighting the National League up. The Red Sox, absent any third base stability, simply needed someone who could fill a hole.
While that role has been filled by rookie phenom Rafael Devers and Nunez has played more second base than third, the thought process was still a need for third base or general infield stability. Nunez has been nothing short of fantastic there.
Nunez has been absolutely sensational and has no business being as good as he has been. Hitting .340 with six home runs and 20 runs batted in during a stretch of just 23 games with the Sox, Nunez has not only been a steady infield presence but a borderline fearsome batter.
“I’d be crazy to not have him in the lineup. He’s been one of the best players in the game.”
– Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell
How can a man who failed to play up to par in New York be three times as effective in Boston? Nunez’s resurgence is equal parts exciting and fascinating. He very well might be the best trade-deadline acquisition across MLB during the 2017 season given the way he’s performing.
Nunez has evidently shrugged his shoulders at “the Boston pressure” and just played his heart out with no concerns. It’s wonderful to see a player like him, who has had a roller coaster ride in the major leagues, compete in the toughest and harshest market for players and rip it to shreds. While Nunez will likely be on the shelf for a bit with a thumb sprain, his numbers are still eye-popping — over a 162-game pace, Nunez would have 42 home runs and 140 runs batted in.
Nunez will likely platoon with Devers at the hot corner, or perhaps play designated hitter, when former MVP second baseman Dustin Pedroia returns from the disabled list. Nunez clearly has experience operating in any role and accepting his place on a club, and therefore Boston should have no concerns.
At any rate, Nunez has taken any and all pressure and completely obliterated it. The Red Sox went from having an infield issue to having too many exceptional infielders, and Nunez is making things easy for Boston and their World Series hopes.