Astros relying on Javier to be 'El Reptil' in G3 start

October 18th, 2023

ARLINGTON -- waited patiently near the back of a windowless Globe Life Field room on Tuesday afternoon, listening as teammate described the Astros pitcher’s icy, stoic demeanor: “You don’t see any blood going through his veins.”

Then, as if to prove his statement, Maldonado pressed his index and middle fingers to Javier’s neck. Maldonado grinned; with Houston down 2-0 in the American League Championship Series, the right-hander known as “El Reptil” is exactly who they want and need to take the ball.

“I feel good with that nickname,” Javier said through an interpreter. “Crocodiles seem like they're calm. But when they get in the water, they can get aggressive.”

That was certainly the case a week ago in Minneapolis, where Javier quieted a raucous Target Field audience of more than 41,000 in Game 3 of the AL Division Series, permitting just one hit over five scoreless innings. Backed by a four-run first inning, Javier proved unflappable; the crowd even tried chanting along with the pitch timer, an effort that prompted no response.

“That’s just something that’s always been within me,” Javier said. “That’s not really something I’ve worked on in the past. My job is to go out there and not let the game speed up on me, and just try to stay relaxed.”

Though Javier’s command was hardly pinpoint against the Twins, issuing five walks and hitting a batter, he struck out nine behind his disappearing “Invisiball” heater and a slider that seemed to dive through the late-afternoon shadows.

No wonder Maldonado and the Astros remain confident.

“We’ve got Javier going, one of our best starters, especially when we need a win,” Maldonado said. “He throws a good pitch at any time; good fastball, good slider. Attacks the hitters. There’s no moment too big for him. That’s why I think we’re going to be really good [in Game 3].”

Coming off an up-and-down performance in the regular season, when Javier posted a 10-5 record and 4.56 ERA in 31 starts, the 26-year-old re-established himself down the stretch. Including the playoff outing against Minnesota, Javier has pitched to a 2.45 ERA across his five most recent starts, with 36 strikeouts.

“That’s exactly who we want going for us tomorrow. He’s been pitching awesome lately,” said outfielder Chas McCormick. “If we can get ‘good Javier’ tomorrow, we’re in great shape. We just need to win one tomorrow and we’re back in the driver’s seat.”

Through his brief October career, Javier has shone in assignments as a starter, short reliever and long reliever. Including six electric innings in last year’s combined no-hitter in Game 4 of the World Series against the Phillies, Javier has won each of his three postseason starts, firing 16 1/3 scoreless frames. Over that span, he has faced 61 batters and yielded just two hits.

Only Christy Mathewson (28 IP), Joe Niekro (18), Ian Anderson (17 2/3), and Jim Lonborg (17) have posted longer scoreless-inning streaks as a starter to begin their postseason careers.

“Like always, I just try and go out there to do the best of my ability,” Javier said. “I always put it in God’s hand and let him be the one to guide us.”

There’s never a bad time to reference a World Series no-hitter, with last year’s gem representing the first since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 Fall Classic, but Houston’s deficit makes it timely. The Astros were down 2-1 in the series when Javier, Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly made history in Philadelphia, sparking their surge to a championship.

“We’ve been in this situation before, down in the series,” Maldonado said. “We’re taking it one game at a time.”