'Big Game Nate' does it again in Rangers' ALDS win

October 11th, 2023

ARLINGTON -- spent most of Tuesday night’s postgame celebration on the side -- getting champagne sprayed on him by fellow starters Jordan Montgomery and Max Scherzer, sharing a special moment with Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux and, mostly, soaking in the moment.

But his teammates wouldn’t let Eovaldi out of the spotlight for long. Not after the right-hander had just tossed seven innings of one-run ball to seal an American League Division Series sweep with a 7-1 win over the Orioles in Game 3 at Globe Life Field.

A chant of “Evo! Evo!” broke out among Eovaldi’s teammates, and they ushered him into the middle of the group to kick off a round of champagne spraying that capped the end of the celebration.

“These are the moments you play for as an athlete,” Eovaldi said. “I love pitching in these big moments. … I enjoy having these big games that are the big deciding games on the line.”

His penchant for the big moment has shown through. Eovaldi clinched Texas’ Wild Card Series win in Game 2 with 6 2/3 strong innings against the Rays. He was even better on Tuesday night, striking out seven and only allowing one run on five hits, all singles.

“God, he was nasty,” Scherzer said. “He just had everything working: the cutter, the curveball, fastball, splitter even. He had every pitch and located them.”

“Nasty Nate” now owns a 2.70 ERA in 56 2/3 postseason innings. With 15 strikeouts and no walks over his last two playoff starts, Eovaldi also boasts a 56-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the postseason.

But despite his All-Star first half and extensive postseason success -- most notably during Boston’s 2018 World Series run -- a right forearm strain sidelined Eovaldi for more than a month in the second half and put his 2023 playoff dreams in question.

He didn’t quite look right upon returning on Sept. 5, forgoing a rehab start and allowing 21 earned runs in 20 1/3 September innings while showing decreased velocity on all of his pitches.

Rewatching his starts from before the injury, however, Eovaldi noticed a big mechanical difference.

“It was more so rotating a little more at the top with my knee,” Eovaldi said. “I was bringing it up straight before. Now I'm bringing it back more toward my back shoulder. I feel like it gives me more time to gather the power and deliver it toward the plate.”

Eovaldi said he feels like he’s officially back to his first-half self. He averaged 95.8 mph on his fastball on Tuesday, up from 94.2 post-injury, and topped out at 98.4 mph -- with his previous high since returning at 97.1 mph.

The added velocity and improved fastball command -- along with nine whiffs on his splitter -- helped him rise to the occasion once again in the playoffs. This time, it was at home, in front of the largest crowd in Globe Life Field history, eager to watch the Rangers' first playoff game at the ballpark.

When Eovaldi exited after seven superb innings with the Rangers on the verge of a sweep, the fans expressed their appreciation with a booming curtain call. It was a first for the 33-year-old, despite his previous postseason success.

“It was definitely very special,” Eovaldi said. “I've never had a curtain call or anything like that. Our fans were bringing it all night long. When I walked out at 6:25 tonight, they were chanting, ‘Let's go Rangers.’ I knew it was going to be a really good night for us.”

Even with possible rotation reinforcements coming with Scherzer and Jon Gray’s potential returns, Eovaldi figures to be at the top of the rotation for the AL Championship Series, which begins Sunday vs. the winner of the Houston-Minnesota series.

Eovaldi, who earned the “Nasty Nate” nickname after road wins at Yankee Stadium in the 2018 ALDS and Minute Maid Park in the ‘18 ALCS, has proven he’s ready for whatever playoff test comes next.

“We knew we needed to give him rest,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “We knew that he would heal and that with time, he would be back out there. That’s exactly what’s happened, and he’s picked us up at a time we need the most.

“That’s what winners do.”