PHILADELPHIA -- A night earlier, they had dressed inconspicuously at their neighboring lockers in a quiet, defeated visitors’ clubhouse. But late Wednesday night, after they had started and completed a history-making mission on the mound in a 5-0 victory in Game 4 of the World Series at Citizens Bank Park, Astros pitchers Cristian Javier and Ryan Pressly were surrounded by cameras, microphones and notebooks there to document what they had done.
In silencing a Phillies lineup that had produced a record five home runs off Lance McCullers Jr. in Game 3 on Tuesday night, Javier, Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Pressly didn’t just shift the momentum of a best-of-seven set, now knotted at two wins apiece. They authored the first combined no-hitter in the World Series -- an achievement that joins Don Larsen’s 1956 perfect game as the only no-hitters in 118 editions of the Fall Classic.
The only other postseason no-hitter was Hall of Famer Roy Halladay’s 2010 National League Division Series gem for the Phillies against the Reds in this very building.
“You get slapped in the face [in Game 3],” Pressly said at the crowded locker stalls, “and you want to come back today and make a statement. You try to have the mind of a goldfish in this game.”
The short memory of a goldfish and the cold-blooded instincts of a reptile.
Javier, underappreciated by the wider populace, has come to be called “El Reptil” (“The Reptile”) among the Astros for his lack of emotion, no matter the stage. He’s shown it in the past in the Bronx -- once in a combined no-hitter with Hector Néris and Pressly on June 25 of this year and again in a stellar start against the Yankees on Oct. 22 in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series -- and he showed it in Philly’s notoriously amped environment.
“We just stayed focused, just came out motivated after [Tuesday’s] loss,” Javier said through an interpreter. “We had positive energy in the clubhouse. We told ourselves that we would come in today to win.”
And in some ways, it was a prophecy fulfilled.
"It’s funny, my parents told me I was going to throw a no-hitter," said Javier, "and thanks to God, I was able to accomplish that."
The backbone to Javier’s brilliance was a four-seamer that he threw 72% of the time. His low arm slot and vertical break make the 96 mph pitch difficult to track.
How does one describe that fastball?
“Clearly, unhittable?” Pressly said.
No doubt. And it made for a stunning shift in tone. The Phillies had entered Game 4 with a chance to put a stranglehold on this Series, to take a 3-1 lead that 85% of previous participants had cashed in on en route to a championship.
But one night after their impromptu Home Run Derby, the Phils ran into a drought. They had absolutely nothing to offer against Javier, whose fastball-slider combo kept them uncomfortable for six innings in which they mustered merely two walks.
“We didn’t find any grass,” said Kyle Schwarber, whose ninth-inning walk off Pressly made him one of only three Phillies baserunners on the night.
Schwarber’s screaming third-inning grounder that ripped down the first-base line but drifted foul just before it crossed the bag (with umpire Lance Barksdale making an excellent in-the-moment call) was as close as the Phillies came to a hit off Javier, who needed 97 pitches to get 18 outs and offered no complaint when pulled by manager Dusty Baker after the sixth.
“He was electric,” said Baker, who has now been in the visitors' dugout for two of the three postseason no-hitters (also as manager of the Reds in Halladay’s 2010 no-hitter). “He threw the ball up, down, and that shows you that the best pitch in baseball is still the well-located fastball. He was calm, cool. Christian Vázquez called a great game for him. I think that's the first time I've seen two guys with the same first name as a battery. So maybe that was part of it.”
Pitching coach Joshua Miller said the plan all along was for Javier to max out around 100 pitches in this outing.
The more aggressive hook was the one made by Phillies manager Rob Thomson. In the fifth, consecutive singles from Chas McCormick, Jose Altuve and Jeremy Peña loaded the bases against Phillies ace Aaron Nola.
As he has throughout this Fall Classic, Thomson didn’t hesitate to summon one of his best bullpen weapons. Rather than ride Nola, who was only at 67 pitches, Thomson turned to José Alvarado, whose assignments typically come much later but who pitched in the fifth for the second time in this World Series.
The result? Alvarado’s first pitch hit Alvarez in the backside to bring home the game’s first run. It was the first time in World Series history that a go-ahead run was scored on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, and -- more importantly -- it ended the Astros’ 16-inning scoreless streak.
“He was just a little bit off,” Thomson said of Alvarado, who had not pitched in five days. “That's a tough situation to bring him in, but we were just trying to keep the damage to a minimum, I guess. It just kind of got away from us.”
Indeed, it did. Alex Bregman doubled the opposite way to right field to bring home two runs, Kyle Tucker followed with a sacrifice fly to score another and Yuli Gurriel completed the outburst with a ground-ball single through the left side for another RBI that made it 5-0.
This was the fourth time this Series that a team went up 5-0 (or more) and the third time the Astros did it. As in Game 2, the lead stuck, thanks to Javier’s brilliant effort, in which he mounted the first individual no-hit bid of at least six innings in the World Series since the Mets’ Jerry Koosman went six against the Orioles in Game 2 in 1969.
Even when Javier exited, the Phillies’ once-potent offense remained powerless. Abreu held them hitless through the seventh. Montero did likewise in the eighth. Finally, in the ninth, Pressly shook up Citizens Bank Park. He retired Brandon Marsh on a called strike three for the first out. Schwarber drew his walk, but Pressly got Rhys Hoskins to fly out to right and J.T. Realmuto to ground out to Bregman at third to complete the feat.
“As soon as that ground ball hit Breggy’s glove,” said Pressly, “I was pretty pumped.”
This was the 19th combined no-hitter in Major League history, with four of those by Houston. The only other postseason attempt at a combined no-no that made it through the seventh came in Game 3 of last year’s World Series by the Braves (Ian Anderson, A.J. Minter and Luke Jackson), against these Astros.
Game 4 was a reminder of how quickly the game can humble its heroes and how quickly the narrative of a Fall Classic can shift. One night, the Phillies were unbeatable. The next, Javier and Co. were unhittable.
Now, with history of two very different sorts having been made at Citizens Bank Park, it’s on to a tiebreaking Game 5. In all best-of-seven series tied 2-2, the Game 5 winner has won the series 45 of 64 times (70%).