PHILADELPHIA — Pitching like a Game 1 starter, the young right-hander Cristian Javier put on a clinic on a night Houston was in need of something spectacular, throwing six no-hit innings at Philadelphia and combining with three relievers for the first combined no-hitter in World Series history.
Javier’s outing positioned the Astros for a 5-0, World Series-tying win in a Game 4 classic. Bryan Abreu struck out the side in the seventh inning, Rafael Montero worked a 1-2-3 eighth and Ryan Pressly lifted the Astros into the history books with a hitless ninth inning, delivering the third no-hitter of any type in postseason history and only the second to come in the World Series.
Javier’s fastball on Wednesday was called “electric” (Houston Manager Dusty Baker), “very, very electric” (catcher Christian Vázquez) and “super nasty” (Astros pitching coach Josh Miller). Though Javier’s fastball only registers between 92 and 94 miles per hour, the Philadelphia slugger Kyle Schwarber said “it’s playing up a little bit harder than that” and Bryce Harper added “he’s got spin rate — 93 looks like 97.”
Javier is deceptive and difficult and, in leaving the Phillies’ heads spinning in Game 4, he was historic.
Only Don Larsen of the Yankees has ever thrown a solo no-hitter in the World Series. That was a perfect game in Game 5 in 1956, when catcher Yogi Berra famously leaped into Larsen’s arms to celebrate. On Wednesday, Houston’s catcher, Vázquez, had his choice of pitchers with whom to celebrate.
Javier started hot and turned blazing as his pitches piled up. The starter in Houston’s combined no-hitter in Yankee Stadium on June 25, Javier walked two, struck out nine and was never threatened. The closest the Phillies came to a hit was in the third inning when Schwarber sent a loud shot down the first base line that slipped past a diving Yuli Gurriel — but only because the ball sliced into foul territory just before it passed the first base bag.
“Ball off the bat, I was like, ‘That’s right at Yuli’,” Miller, the pitching coach, said. “Then it kind of skirted by the line and I was like, ‘Oh, no’, hoping it’s not fair. It was a close one, for sure.”
Though a complete game no-hitter would be considered a more impressive feat, there was no chance that the Astros were going to allow Javier, who was at 97 pitches through six innings, to keep pitching in pursuit of an individual accomplishment. Miller said that the Astros had allowed Javier to toss a career-high 115 pitches over seven innings in the combined no-hitter against the Yankees in June and that he “hadn’t done it since.” In fact, Javier had only thrown 100 or more pitches once since, when he reached 106 in a game at Atlanta on Aug. 20.
Miller said there was no talk at all of leaving Javier in the game after he zipped through the sixth on three ground balls.
“If it made sense to take him out before that, we probably would have,” Miller said. “But it made sense to take him to the max.”
Baker pointed out that even an established veteran like Clayton Kershaw was removed from a potential perfect game by Manager Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier this season.
“It’s baseball in 2022,” Baker said, adding: “You think about, especially a young player, you think about his health and his career as much as you think about the game. And like I said, we had a real fresh bullpen, an extremely fresh bullpen, and one of the best bullpens around. So I had full faith that they could do the job.”
Javier and the three Astros relievers combined to strike out 14 Phillies overall. And it came on a night when the Astros needed heroes to come up big.
The Astros had been pushed to the edge of desperation, where another loss would be disastrous following their Game 3 bludgeoning. A team that made it to the World Series without losing a single game of the division series or League Championship Series rounds of the playoffs was left talking about wringing just one win out here to force a trip back home. Could the Astros answer the wake-up call?
As Javier looked to save Houston’s season by obliterating the Phillies, Astros hitters continued spinning the combination lock that was their offense until the right numbers appeared. A team that ranked third in the American League in runs scored this season had fallen into a 16-inning drought that started in Game 2 and stretched through the first four innings of Game 4. Frustration was evident. The Astros were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position.
Then, finally, the breakthrough came in the fifth inning. Three straight singles loaded the bases and ended Philadelphia starter Aaron Nola’s night. As he did in Game 1, Phillies Manager Rob Thomson aggressively called for the left-handed reliever Jose Alvarado, who normally pitches later in the game, to enter and face Yordan Alvarez.
It had worked in Game 1, but on this day Alvarado drilled Alvarez with the first pitch he threw, a 99-m.p.h. fastball. That forced in Houston’s first run, and the inning would deteriorate from there for the Phillies.
Though Alvarado jumped ahead of the next hitter, putting Alex Bregman into an 0 and 2 hole, Bregman fought back by belting a two-run double to push Houston’s lead to 3-0. Kyle Tucker’s sacrifice fly and Yuli Gurriel’s R.B.I. single extended it to 5-0.
The way Javier was pitching, that was all Houston would need. With every strikeout, any thought of Justin Verlander’s failure to hold a 5-0 lead for the Astros in Game 1 receded further and further.
“You guys can write about all the fun stuff, but it’s a loss for us,” Schwarber said. “And we’ve got to move on to tomorrow.”
Though he didn’t get the ball until Game 4, Javier has surrendered only one run since Sept. 8 — a span of four regular season starts, three postseason appearances and 35⅔ innings. He is the Astros’ secret weapon, a Game 1 starter-in-waiting. Baker mentioned hearing an interview with Joe Torre, the Hall of Fame manager, in which Torre said that Game 4 is the pivotal game in a seven-game series “and that’s why we kind of wanted Javy pitching the fourth game. I mean, the guy was cool as if it was June or July. That’s how he is.”
Javier, a 25-year-old right-hander, signed as a undrafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2015 for only $10,000. He played the outfield as a youth and did not transition to pitching until he was 16. His parents were at Wednesday night’s game, and it was the first time his father has seen him pitch in the major leagues.
“I really didn’t focus on the signing bonus,” Javier said after the game via a translator. “I just tried to do the best I could every single year. And I knew every single year that I was in the minors that I didn’t have anything promised, that I would just have to give my best every single year. And, thankfully, I’m here.”
He made a career-high 25 starts this summer and worked five other games in relief. He led the American League in opponent batting average (.170) among pitchers who threw at least 130 innings, and he ranked second in strikeouts-per-nine-innings at 11.74.
That ace-level starter who he was against the Phillies. During one stretch covering the fourth and fifth innings, he fanned five consecutive hitters — J.T. Realmuto, Harper, Nick Castellanos, Alec Bohm and Bryson Scott. The fourth inning was identified as a key stretch by both Baker and Miller: Javier breezed through it in 12 pitches.
“The fourth inning was a good statement inning, keeping the pitch count efficient and striking out some challenging hitters,” Miller said.
He allowed only two baserunners over his six innings, a leadoff walk to Harper in the second and a one-out walk to Brandon Marsh in the third. Each was left stranded.
“Every time he takes the ball you think it can be special just because he’s got such unique, special pitches,” Miller said, adding that he threw “some crazy sliders” and that his fastball is so tough on hitters because it presents “a unique look from a lower, slinging arm slot and it has the vertical break component. It’s tough for guys.”
Though Abreu, Montero and Pressly all downplayed their part in the historic evening, with all emphasizing the must-win status of the evening for the Astros, Montero did allow that as the game progressed, the old-school baseball superstition of not mentioning the no-hitter while each pitcher generally remained in the same spot was in effect.
“It’s pretty special,” said Pressly, who issued a one-out walk to Schwarber in the ninth but then got Rhys Hoskins to fly to right field and Realmuto to bounce to Bregman for the final out. “Javy goes out there and does what he normally does and, honestly, I think he’s the most underrated pitcher in the league. And Abreu and Montero, honestly, I just want to follow suit and just not mess anything up.”
Ben Shpigel contributed reporting.
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