PHILADELPHIA – Pitching like a Game 1 starter, young right-hander Cristian Javier set up a clinic on a night when Houston needed something good, pitching six no-hitter innings in Philadelphia to start the first combined no-hitter in the World Series history.
Javier’s outing set the Astros up for a tied 5-0 World Series win in a Game 4 classic. Bryan Abreu retired the team in the seventh inning, Rafael Montero worked a 1-2-3 eighth, then Ryan Pressly propelled the Astros into the history books with a no-hitter ninth inning.
Only Don Larsen of the Yankees has ever thrown a no-hitter solo in the World Series. It was a perfect game in Game 5 in 1956, when catcher Yogi Berra jumped into his arms in celebration. On Wednesday, Houston wide receiver Christian Vázquez had his pick of pitchers to celebrate with.
Javier started hot and got flamboyant as his throws piled up. The starter in Houston’s combined no-hitter at Yankee Stadium earlier this summer, Javier walked two bases and struck out nine and was never threatened by the Phillies.
And it came on a night the Astros needed a hero.
Emergency sneaks into the World Series overnight as an unwanted intruder. High hopes and frantic expectations bring easy color to the early days. But one loss too many and suddenly the nights become restless and the days hectic.
The Astros were pushed to that advantage on Wednesday after their Game 3 overkill. A team that went to the World Series without losing found themselves talking about picking up just one win in Philadelphia to force a homecoming. Could the Astros respond to the wake-up call? Could they get their bats moving in time?
Javier provided that time in Game 4. He blasted the Philadelphia lineup with the fury of an ace looking to save a fall.
As Javier wiped out the Phillies, the Astros hitters kept spinning the combination lock that was their offense until the right numbers came up. A team that ranked third in the American League in runs scored this season fell into a 16-inning drought that started in Game 2 and stretched into the first four innings of Game 4. The frustration was obvious. The Astros were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position.
Then, finally, the breakthrough came in the fifth. Three consecutive singles loaded the bases and ended Philadelphia starter Aaron Nola’s night. As he did in Game 1, Phillies manager Rob Thomson aggressively called left-handed reliever Jose Alvarado, who normally pitches later in games, to face left-handed Yordan Alvarez.
It worked in Game 1, when Alvarado popped up and overpowered the Astros.
But on Wednesday, Alvarado drilled Alvarez with his first pitch, a 99 mph fastball. That forced Houston’s first inning, and the inning would go downhill from there for the Phillies.
Although Alvarado edged the next batter, putting Alex Bregman in an 0-and-2 hole, Bregman fought back by scoring a two-run brace to push Houston’s lead to 3-0. Kyle Tucker’s sacrificial fly and Yuli Gurriel’s RBI single extended it to 5-0.
The way Javier was throwing was all Houston needed. With each strikeout, any thought of Justin Verlander’s failure to hold a 5-0 lead for the Astros in Game 1 grew further and further away.
Despite not getting the ball back until Game 4, Javier has only allowed one point since September 8. A 25-year-old who the Astros signed as an undrafted free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2015, he played the outfield as a youth and didn’t switch to pitching until he was 16.
He made a career-high 25 starts this summer and worked five more games in relief. He led the American League in batting average this summer (.170) among those with a minimum of 130 innings pitched, and he ranked second in strikeouts per nine innings at 11.74.
That’s who he was against the Phillies. During a streak spanning the fourth and fifth innings, he whipped up five straight batters – JT Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos, Alec Bohm and Bryson Scott.
He allowed just two baserunners in his six innings: a first walk to Harper in second and a one-out walk to Brandon Marsh in third. Two strikeouts and a pop fly at shortstop left Harper stranded. A strikeout and foul ball did the same with Marsh.
All of that was what the Astros needed, especially because more ominous signs of offensive futility were showing up early. Tucker started the second inning by hooking a double in the corner of right field. It was Houston’s first extra hit since Bregman’s fifth-inning home run in Game 2. But the Astros, who needed early momentum to change the tone of this series, missed the opportunity.
Tucker moved up to third on Gurriel’s ground ball. Nola, who had thrown 18 of his 22 pitches for strikes when Tucker doubled up and showed precise control, then hit Vázquez with a pitch to put the Astros first and third. But then he stoked Aledmys Díaz with a curveball at 88mph, then threw another curveball past Chas McCormick for the three strike to end the inning.
In that moment, it seemed that Nola, and not Javier, would be the story of that evening. But there was a long way to go, and Javier got better and better.
“There’s more urgency,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said before Game 4, mostly in response to a question about whether he’d have a faster hook with his pitchers than he has. made in game 3 7-0. “But at the same time, there is a difference between urgency and panic. There is a fine line between them.
Wise thoughts then, and reinforced step by step by Javier on a night when the Astros needed everything they could get.