PHILADELPHIA -- If the Astros considered right-hander Cristian Javier to be some sort of secret weapon in a rotation anchored by All-Stars Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers Jr., the rest of the world is now well aware of one of baseball’s most promising up-and-coming young arms.
Javier, the outfielder-turned-pitcher who signed for only $10,000 out of the Dominican Republic a week before his 18th birthday in 2015, no-hit the Phillies for six innings with his “invisi-ball” fastball and sweeping slider, combining with three relief pitchers to throw the second no-no in the history of the World Series, a 5-0 win over the Phillies in Game 4 on Wednesday night.
“We just stayed focused, just came out motivated after yesterday's loss,” Javier said. “We had positive energy in the clubhouse. We told ourselves that we would come in today to win. Coming into the ballpark today, we studied the other team, had a lot of adrenaline and stayed positive and just had a lot of desire to win.”
Simply put, it was one of the best postseason starts in Astros history considering the results and the stakes, with the Astros desperately needing a win to avoid going down 3-1 in the series. Instead, they’ve wrestled home-field advantage back from the Phillies and have Verlander lined up for Game 5 on Thursday at Citizens Bank Park and Valdez in Game 6 on Saturday, back in Houston.
Javier's parents were in attendance to witness the history -- the first time his father had seen him pitch at the Major League level. Prior to the game, they told him he would throw a no-hitter.
“When they told me that, obviously I got a lot more motivated,” Javier said. “I kept my faith in God and obviously I knew I had a big commitment today being down 2-1 in the Series. And obviously with my parents being here, I just tried to give my best, give my family the best that I could. And obviously having my dad here as well so he could enjoy the success that I've had, so he can come here and enjoy the game as well.”
If the Series goes seven games, expect Javier to be involved somehow, someway considering the way he dominated Phillies hitters Wednesday.
“Well, I thought about that today,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said with a grin. “I was shaking it out, to tell you the truth. So, I don't know, [he could pitch] two or three innings, maybe.”
Javier struck out nine batters and walked two while throwing 97 pitches and joined with Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly for the first no-hitter in the World Series since Don Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees in Game 5 in 1956. Just earlier this year, on June 25, Javier threw seven scoreless innings in a combined no-hitter at the Yankees.
“He was electric,” Baker said. “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.”
Javier relied almost solely on his four-seam fastball and his slider, keeping the Phillies perplexed. He threw his fastball 70 times (72 percent) and his slider 25 times (26 percent), while mixing in two curves. Phillies slugger Bryce Harper said Javier’s 92 mph fastball looked like it was 97 mph.
“It's different,” Harper said. “We haven't faced him a lot. So being able to see him tonight, it was pretty tough. He has some pretty good numbers the last year or so. He just threw the ball well.”
A key sequence came in the fourth when he struck out J.T. Realmuto, Harper and Nick Castellanos -- all on fastballs -- in succession, and the Astros responded when they erupted for five runs in the fifth.
“Oh, I thought it was huge,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “Just him continuing to put up zeros when we hadn't scored was keeping us in the game and giving us a chance. That's all you can really ask for out of a starter. We put a little pressure on him there, not scoring early. He answered the bell. I think it was huge just being able to give us a chance to get a lead.”
Baker said he didn’t consider letting Javier try to finish the no-hitter. He had a 100-pitch limit because he was pitching on 10 days of rest. Baker turned it over to baseball’s best bullpen instead.
“So it's always tough to take a guy out, but you have to weigh the no-hitter and history versus trying to win this game and get back to 2-2 in the World Series,” Baker said.
Javier, 25, was throwing in the mid-80s when the Astros signed him and he was never considered a top prospect until the completion of the 2019 season, when he was named the team’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year. By 2020, he was in the Astros’ bullpen and last year appeared in three World Series games in relief, getting roughed up by the Braves twice.
With an extra year of maturity and experience, Javier flourished on the Fall Classic stage in Game 4 and lived up to his “El Reptil” nickname. No matter the circumstance, he’s emotionless and seemingly cold-blooded.
“I mean, the guy was cool as if it was June or July,” Baker said. “That's how he is. I heard his mom and dad were here from the Dominican. They got to see him pitch. It's always great when you do something in front of your folks. I mean, this is a world stage here. People from all over the world are watching this, and he certainly put himself on the map.”
In his last six starts, including the regular season, Javier is 5-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 0.52 WHIP. He’s struck out 43 batters, issued 11 walks and allowed seven hits in 34 1/3 scoreless innings. And who knows? Javier’s 2022 World Series heroics might not be over just yet.