Unflappable Javier runs scoreless postseason streak to 16 1/3 innings

Baker, on starting pitcher's grit: 'He can smell a victory'

October 11th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- When  takes the mound in the postseason, there's seemingly no throwing him off his game.

Even when the Target Field crowd packed with 41,017 strong came together in an effort to fluster him, counting down with the pitch timer to add a layer of urgency as the clock ran out, Javier remained collected as he stranded runners on second and third to end the first inning.

“I did notice it, and when I did, I used it in my favor," Javier said in Spanish through interpreter Jenloy Herrera. "At that point, I stopped paying attention to the clock because they were counting and just paid attention to the catcher.”

With Houston's rotation depth more tenuous than in previous years, Javier built off a strong finish to an up-and-down season by giving his team five scoreless frames in a 9-1 Game 3 win, tallying nine strikeouts to tie his postseason career high. The 26-year-old righty showed some grit in a tough fifth inning, keeping his composure as the Astros took a 2-1 lead in the American League Division Series.

"Javier got in some trouble," manager Dusty Baker said. "We had to make a decision on whether to leave him in there or go to somebody else. He came through. He can smell a victory, or he can smell when I'm about to take him out."

Already the first pitcher in postseason history with back-to-back starts of five innings allowing one hit or fewer, Javier kept the streak going on Tuesday. He's in rare company as the fourth pitcher with three consecutive scoreless starts of at least five innings in the playoffs, joining Whitey Ford (four times, three shutouts, 1960-61), Kenny Rogers (three times, 2006) and Christy Mathewson (three shutouts, 1905).

Javier has thrown far fewer innings than the other three, which is perhaps an indication of how starting pitching has evolved over the years. 

But it's hard to argue with Javier's streak of 16 1/3 scoreless innings, which is tied for the fifth longest to begin a postseason starting pitching career, per the Elias Sports Bureau. His first 12 appearances in the playoffs came in relief.

Javier's scoreless streak was most in jeopardy in the fifth inning, when he issued a leadoff walk to Willi Castro before getting nine-hole hitter Ryan Jeffers to fly out to center. When the lineup flipped over, Javier dealt back-to-back free passes to Edouard Julien and Jorge Polanco -- though home-plate umpire Bill Miller missed what appeared to be a foul tip during Polanco's plate appearance -- to load the bases for the heart of Minnesota's order.

“I just try to breathe," Javier said of his mindset when walking batters. "I try to breathe, so I can continue to stay calm, so the game doesn't get out of hand.”

Never in doubt, Javier struck out his final two batters, freezing Max Kepler on a knuckle curve and getting an off-balance swing from Royce Lewis on a slider.

Javier thrived on his slider in Game 3, generating 13 whiffs on the offering -- the most in a single outing in his career. Catcher Martín Maldonado noted that Javier particularly excelled at landing his slider for strikes and did not hold back in attacking the zone.

"When he does that," Maldonado said, "he's one of the best."

Above all, the Astros' backstop was in no way surprised that Javier managed to stay composed as he got out of the jam unscathed. In the four seasons he's caught him, Maldonado has yet to see Javier let his emotions get the best of him.

"The only way you can rattle him is if you punch him, probably," Maldonado said with a smile.