Unhittable fastball carries Javier to latest postseason gem

October 19th, 2023

ARLINGTON -- When hurled his “invisi-ball” past Rangers rookie Evan Carter for a swinging strike three to end the first inning, it foreshadowed a long night for the Texas lineup.

When Javier is at his best, his fastball is one of the most dominant pitches in the Majors -- and it was on from the very first pitch of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night.

“I knew that my fastball was going to be good,” Javier said in Spanish through translator Jenloy Herrera. “It was doing exactly what I wanted, and even early on in the game, I noticed it was really good.”

Javier threw 10 straight four-seamers to retire the Rangers’ hitters in a 1-2-3 first. Then he continued his postseason brilliance with a 5 2/3-inning, two-run outing to help secure an 8-5 win at Globe Life Field and give Houston its first win of the series.

“These moments are always extremely special for me,” Javier said postgame on the FOX broadcast. “I always think back to Pedro Martinez in all those big games with [the] Red Sox vs. Yankees.”

Javier, just like Martinez, has earned a reputation for putting up zero after zero on the postseason’s biggest stages.

The right-hander held the Rangers hitless for 4 2/3 innings until a Nathaniel Lowe single. His streak of 20 1/3 scoreless postseason innings ended on the next batter with a Josh Jung home run. The two hits were the only blemishes on an otherwise dazzling start from Javier, who also walked only one after struggling with free passes for much of the season.

“That's the secret, if you can stop from walking guys, because you know they're going to hit the ball out of the ballpark at some point in time,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He was good. He was very good.”

It was the second-longest scoreless-innings streak to begin a postseason career as a starter, surpassed only by Christy Mathewson’s 28-frame shutout run from 1905-11.

Javier’s streak started in last year’s ALCS with a one-hit outing against the Yankees, continued with six scoreless innings in a no-hitter in the World Series and carried into 2023 in a much-needed Game 3 victory in the AL Division Series vs. the Twins.

So when the Astros went down 2-0 in the series vs. the Rangers, the Houston clubhouse expressed its confidence in its Game 3 starter, Javier, who earned the nickname “El Reptil” for his unflappable demeanor.

“There's not a better feeling than knowing that your teammates instill their confidence in you,” Javier said. “They expect good things in you and put their trust in you.”

Javier delivered. The right-hander used his slider (career-high 13 whiffs) to take down the Twins on Oct. 10. Eight days later, the Rangers came in with a game plan to lay off the breaking ball, whiffing on only one of 22 sliders thrown and chasing only one thrown out of the zone.

But Javier’s bread and butter is his fastball, which has earned reviews from opposing hitters as “mystical.” He twirled 54 fastballs and earned seven whiffs and five called strikes on the pitch, which had even more spin than usual.

“He's got that fastball that rises a little bit, and hitters have a tough time,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “It's a tough fastball if you haven't seen it.”

The Rangers moved Carter to the No. 3 spot in the lineup, perhaps seeing something in the left-handed-hitting outfielder’s postseason success that could carry over to at-bats vs. Javier.

It resulted in two strikeouts and a double in Javier’s final at-bat of the night, with the velocity on the four-seamer dipping to 92 mph. Baker elected to go to his bullpen.

Before Javier made his World Series Game 4 start last year, Hall of Famer Martinez called the Houston starter “cold-blooded” on MLB Network.

"He's battle tested. ... This is a guy that does not get intimidated by the moment,” Martinez said.

Javier proved Martinez right a few hours later, tossing the first six innings of a no-hitter and invoking memories of his childhood idol Martinez, somebody Javier has looked up to as “one of the icons of Dominican Republic baseball.”

So if Javier was worried that the Rangers would start to rally and ruin his strong start, he didn’t show it in the dugout -- watching with his patented stoic stare as Michael Brantley made an impressive catch to rob an extra-base hit and leave Carter stranded at second.

Because ultimately, that’s who Javier is. Cold. Blooded.