Vázquez's game-calling of no-no praised by both sides

Veteran catcher in backup role with Astros after midseason trade from Boston

November 3rd, 2022

PHILADELPHIA -- By the time Alex Bregman fired across the diamond to complete the Astros’ combined no-hitter in World Series Game 4, Christian Vázquez was already halfway to the pitcher’s mound. The catcher pumped his fist and then half-walked, half-floated the rest of the way, clasping closer Ryan Pressly’s right hand with his own before throwing an arm around Pressly’s back.

As the two old teammates embraced, Vázquez grinned. Then he stood to the side as the rest of the Astros congratulated Pressly for his role in Houston’s 5-0 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

Vázquez may never receive the same level of credit as Cristian Javier, Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero or Pressly, the quartet of pitchers that combined on the third no-hitter in postseason history. But unlike those four, Vázquez was involved on every pitch of Game 4, drawing a rare start behind the plate and coming away with his piece of history.

“He stayed on top of me, continued to motivate me throughout the game and gave me really good, positive energy,” Javier said through an interpreter. “I think that’s one of the reasons why we got the result we did today.”

Entering the night, Vázquez had started only one playoff game for the Astros, in large part because Javier had only started one as well. Houston’s propensity for sweeping series meant that the Astros had mostly relied on Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers Jr., all of whom were accustomed to throwing to starting catcher Martín Maldonado.

Wednesday presented a different sort of opportunity, with Javier tabbed to start. Vázquez, who went from Boston to Houston in a Trade Deadline deal three months ago, had caught five of Javier’s last seven starts dating back to August. While the pairing isn’t exclusive, Vázquez has given the Astros plenty of reason to keep it intact, given Javier’s 1.31 ERA pitching to him versus a 2.91 mark throwing to all other catchers.

Such success plays into Vázquez’s reputation as a strong defensive catcher and game-caller, which he bolstered in shepherding Javier through the first six innings of Houston’s no-hitter. As the Phillies struggled to make contact with Javier’s “invisi-ball” fastball, Vázquez simply kept calling it -- 70 times out of 97 total pitches. The 72% fastball rate was Javier’s highest in a game this season.

“He’s calling every pitch, he’s seeing the movement, he's seeing the hitter reaction,” Astros pitching coach Joshua Miller said. “It’s huge, knowing what to call and when to maybe vacate the general game plan in certain situations.”

Miller also referenced Vázquez’s big-game experience in Boston, where the catcher played for seven-and-a-half seasons including a title run in 2018. Back then, Vázquez was a starting catcher, squatting behind the plate for most of October. When the Red Sox traded him in August, Vázquez immediately became a backup, which he has admitted was a difficult adjustment. He entered Wednesday’s game having caught only 24 of Houston’s 99 playoff innings.

To combat rust and learn a new staff, Vázquez spent time “talking to everybody, knowing all the pitchers, catching a couple bullpens on days I’m not playing” -- a process that bore fruit Wednesday evening on baseball’s grandest stage. Phillies outfielder Nick Castellanos went out of his way to acknowledge Vázquez’s role following the game, citing the catcher for “keeping us off balance.”

It helps that Vázquez has not needed to learn everything from scratch. When he arrived in Houston in August, Vázquez reunited with Pressly, a former Red Sox farmhand who delivered some of his first professional pitches to him when both played for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast Red Sox in 2008. After closing out the no-hitter, Pressly echoed the comments of others, noting that Vázquez “prepares behind the plate better than a lot of people that I’ve been around, and does great things back there.”

Tack one more onto his résumé, now that Vázquez is one of only three catchers, along with Carlos Ruiz and Yogi Berra, to catch a postseason no-no.

“It’s a special moment, obviously,” he said. “It was a no-hitter. There were two catchers in history to call a [postseason] no-hitter. So yeah, it’s a very special day.”