PHILADELPHIA — Throwing like a Game 1 starter, young right-hander Christian Javier went into the clinic on a night in Houston in need of something good and started World Series history with a six-inning no-hitter in Philadelphia First combined no-hitter last time.
Javier’s appearance allowed the Astros to tie the World Series 5-0 in Game 4 of the classic. Bryan Abreu hit the wing in the seventh, Rafael Montero made it 1-2-3 in the eighth, then Ryan Price Ryan Pressly put the Astros into the history books in the ninth inning.
Only the Yankees’ Don Larsen has pitched a solo no-hitter in the World Series. It was a perfect game in Game 5 in 1956, when famed catcher Yogi Berra jumped into his arms to celebrate. On Wednesday, Houston catcher Christian Vazquez chose the pitcher to celebrate with.
Javier started to heat up, and as he pitched more and more, he became hot. Javier went two games, struck out nine games as the Houston United no-hitter starter at Yankee Stadium earlier this summer, and was never threatened by the Phillies.
It came on the night the Astros needed a hero.
As an unwelcome intruder, a sense of urgency crept into the World Series overnight. High hopes and fanatical expectations bring lighthearted color to the first few days. But one too many losses, and suddenly the night becomes restless and the day becomes jittery.
In Game 3, the Astros were pushed to that brink on Wednesday. A team that made it to the World Series without a loss was left talking about winning just one game in Philadelphia to force them home. Can the astronauts answer the alarm bells? Can they make the bats move in time?
Javier provided that time in Game 4. He burst through Philly’s lineup with Trump’s fury, hoping to save a fall.
As Javier eliminated the Phillies, the Astros hitters continued to spin as a combination lock on their offense until the correct number came up. A team that ranks third in the American League in scoring this season is in a 16-inning drought that began in Game 2 and continued through the first four innings of Game 4. The frustration is palpable. The Astros went 0 for 4 with the runners in scoring position.
Then, finally, the breakout came on the fifth. Three straight singles loaded the bases and ended the night for Philadelphia starter Aaron Nora. As he did in Game 1, Phillies manager Rob Thomson aggressively called on left-handed reliever Jose Alvarado, who usually pitches late in the game, to face southpaw Jordan Alvarez.
It worked in Game 1, when Alvarado triggered a pop-up and overpowered the Astros.
But on Wednesday, Alvarado trained Alvarez with his first ball, a 99-mph fastball. That was forced in Houston’s Game 1, and the Phillies’ game will deteriorate from there.
Although Alvarado was ahead of the next hitter to put Alex Bregman on the 0 and 2 holes, Bregman fought back with two runs to push Houston’s lead to 3-0. Keltak’s sacrifice fly and Uliguriel’s RBI extended it to 5-0.
The way Javier pitches, that’s what Houston needs. With each strikeout, any notion of Justin Verlander failing to hold a 5-0 lead for the Astros in Game 1 is getting farther and farther away.
Although he didn’t get the ball until Game 4, Javier has not had the ball since Sept. 8. A 25-year-old Astros signed undrafted free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2015, he played outfield as a young man and didn’t play until he was 16. Transition to pitching.
This summer, he started a career-high 25 games and excelled in five other games. He leads the American League in opponent batting average this summer (0.170), and he ranks second in strikeouts per nine innings at 11.74 among those who have pitched at least 130 innings.
That’s who he was against the Phillies. In a stretch of the fourth and fifth innings, he struck out five hitters in a row — JT Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos, Alec Bohm and Bryson Scott.
In his six innings, he allowed only two base runners: a lead walk to Harper in the second and a walk to Brandon Marsh in the third. Two strikeouts and a pop fly to shortstop put Harper in trouble. The same goes for a strikeout and a foul ball against Marsh.
All of this is what the Astros need, especially since more ominous signs of the offense’s futility are flashing early. Tucker hooked the double into the right corner at the start of the second inning. It was Houston’s first extra-base hit since Bregman’s fifth-inning homer in Game 2. But the Astros needed early momentum to change the tone of the series, so ruined that opportunity.
Tucker moved to third on Gurriel’s ground ball. When Tucker doubled and showed precise control, Nora threw 18 of his 22 pitches before hitting Vazquez with a pitch to put the Astros in first and third. But then he fanned Aledmys Díaz with an 88 mph knuckle curve before throwing another curve past Chas McCormick to end the inning with a 3-pointer.
At that point, it seemed Nora, not Javier, would be tonight’s story. But there’s still a long way to go and Javier is just getting better.
“There’s a lot more urgency,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said before Game 4, mostly in response to a hint that he’ll pick up pitchers sooner than he did in a 7-0 blowout in Game 3 question. “But at the same time, there’s a difference between urgency and panic. There’s a fine line between them.”
Sage figured it out, and was reinforced court-by-court by Javier on a night when the Astros needed everything they could get.