This year’s Phillies weren’t exactly strangers to being no-hit collectively. Five Mets—Tylor Megill, Drew Smith, Joely Rodriguez, Seth Lugo, and Edwin Díaz—did just that to them on April’s next-to-last day. Nine of the Phillies in that day’s lineup, including their starting pitcher Aaron Nola, just so happened to be on the receiving end of that quintet’s performance.
But the night after the Phillies bludgeoned the Astros to take a 2-1 World Series lead, the Cristian Javier Quintet—starter Cristian Javier; relievers Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero, and Ryan Pressly, with Christian Vázquez drumming for them behind the plate—played “Straight, No-Hit Chaser” in Citizens Bank Park.
This was baseball’s version of a classic Miles Davis Quintet. With Javier blowing transcendently through the first six innings, a pitching Miles delivering deceptively simple things that had more to say across bars than more exhibitionistic soloists say compressed into half a bar.
Then it was Abreu, Montero, and Pressly taking the final solos knowing full well they might keep the Phillies pinned to their seats without reaching quite for Javier’s heights.
The 5-0 Astro win provided only the second World Series no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect Game Five in 1956, tied the Series at two each, and guaranteed a return trip to Houston for one Series game at least.
“God willing,” Javier’s parents reportedly told him before Game Four began, knowing the Astros were handed their heads on plates in Game Three, and knowing what a thrill it was for their son to have them in Citizens Bank Park for the occasion, “you’ll throw a no-hitter.” Those folks should be buying lottery tickets before they return home.
The 25-year-old Dominican threw six no-hit innings before turning it over to his bullpen. Javier threw fastballs that didn’t carry heat so much as they carried movement and deceptive facial appearances away from Phillie bat arcs, occasional sliders that slid around those bats, and looked as though he was amusing himself making the Game Three thumpers resemble paper tigers.
“I remember being on the other end of that,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker, who’d managed the Reds team no-hit by the late Roy Halladay in the 2010 National League division series. “It was the seventh inning and it seemed like it was the second inning, and I looked up on the board and it’s the seventh inning already. Then you’re trying not to be no-hit and then you’re trying to win the ballgame and—yeah, that’s pretty remarkable.”
“Remarkable” would be a polite way to put Wednesday night.
“He’s got good extension, good ride, things like that,” said Phillies left fielder Kyle Schwarber, who went 0-for-3 with Javier in the game but worked Pressly for a proven-futile one-out walk in the bottom of the ninth. “When it says ’92’ up on the board, it’s playing a little bit harder than that.”
Javier was far from alone, of course. The Astros lineup pushed, shoved, bumped, and prodded through the first four against Nola, but had nothing on the scoreboard to show for it. They’d already played fifteen straight Series innings without scoring and must have begun wondering how they could buy a run or two on the black market if it came to that.
Then they loaded the pads on Nola to open the top of the fifth. Center fielder Chas McCormick opened with a grounder into the left-side hole that Phillies shortstop Bryson Stott backhanded breathlessly but couldn’t throw in time to stop McCormick. Jose Altuve lined one over Stott’s stretch for a quick base hit.
As Jose Alvarado got up and throwing in the Phillies bullpen, rookie Astro shortstop Jeremy Peña lined one so hard through short for a hit that there was no way McCormick could score.
Even more so than earlier in the Series, Peña continued making the Astros feeling less regret about losing shortstop mainstay Carlos Correa to free agency last winter. And while he batted against Nola, Phillies manager Rob Thomson took no chances and got Jose Alvarado up and throwing in the bullpen. As soon as Peña stopped at first, Thomson reached for Alvarado, the stout lefthander, with lefthanded Astros bomber Yordan Alvarez due to hit.
Alvarado wanted to tie Alvarez up on the first pitch, going inside. The pitch sailed all the way into Alvarado’s ribs to send McCormick strolling home with the first Astros run. Some dare call it poking the bears.
Almost immediately, Astros third baseman Alex Bregman lined one the other way to deep right for a two-run double and Kyle Tucker sent Alvarez home on a sacrifice fly. Then Yuli Gurriel, the ancient Astros first baseman who’s still a tough strikeout, grounded an 0-2 service through shortstop to score Bregman.
“I was focused on the target,” Alvarado said postgame. “The same Alvarado as always. The last thing I want to do there is hit him.”
From there the two bullpens kept each other quiet enough, with only Phillies reliever Brad Hand surrendering a ninth-inning hit to Peña before stranding him on a pair of fly outs. But the Astros pen finishing what Javier started so brilliantly finished the real Game Four story.
“This,” Javier said postgame, “is the best gift I could have ever given my family, my parents. To me, it’s even more special knowing that they were able to see that in person.” It wasn’t exactly the worst gift he could have given his teammates, either.
“Just going into today’s game, we had so much confidence in him,” said McCormick. “Even coaches, I had a feeling—Javier’s going to shove today. And he’s been shoving.”
That’s a polite way to put it. Almost completely hidden all year long, at least until Wednesday night, according to the invaluable Jayson Stark, was Javier keeping opposing batters to a .170 average against him foe the season. For his last six starts including Game Four, Javier surrendered as many hits as Nola surrendered in Game Four alone. Batters across the six hit .067 against him.
Not even Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, or Randy Johnson ever had a six-start, five-plus-innings, seven-hit string of starts like that, Stark exhumed. No pitcher ever did something like that until Javier.
So the righthander with the throwing-upstairs look in his delivery wasn’t exactly coming into Game Four unarmed. Now he manhandled a Phillies team that averaged seven runs a game this postseason coming in. And his bullpen finished what he started with near-similar manhandling.
“You get slapped in the face [in Game Three] and go back today and make a statement,” Pressly said. “You try to have the mind of the goldfish in this game. You try not to think about anything. You just want to go out there and try to produce and put a ‘W’ in the column.”
Never mind that Larsen, the Yankee righthander who kept the Dodgers hitless, runless, and runnerless in 1956, remains in his own postseason no-hit class for doing it all by his lonesome. This game takes its own place of singularity. Eighteen combined no-hitters have been thrown in Show history, but this was the first to happen in a World Series.
Astros catcher Martín Maldonado, who yielded in favour of Vásquez for Game Four, didn’t mind that Javier wouldn’t get the chance to go the distance with it.
“It’s about winning the game. That’s all. As long as we win the game, the result doesn’t matter. It’s about winning. The World Series is about winning. It’s not about a player or an achievement, or about player recognition or anything like that. The World Series is about winning. It’s about, ‘Give me as many innings as you can. Give us a chance to win’.”
And if a little history is made doing so, Maldonado won’t really complain. Especially since it guaranteed the Series getting back to Houston at all. They wouldn’t mind going there with a 3-2 Series lead and the upstart Phillies knocking on death’s door.
But the Phillies abused Justin Verlander in Game One and get another crack at the future Hall of Famer in Game Five. It’s not impossible that being no-hit the night after they flew the bombers down the Astros’ throats might give these Phillies—planning a bullpen game to be opened by Noah Syndergaard—the same kind of incentive the Astros took into Game Four.
Prick these Phillies and they’ll pounce back. Slap them, and they’ll shove back. “Confident as ever,” said third baseman Alec Bohm about the team mood after shaking off the no-hitter. “I don’t think anybody’s worried. Tonight stays here. Tomorrow’s a new day.”
“It’s just a loss,” said Schwarber. “Now it’s a race to two. See what happens.”
Now we’ll find out what these Phillies will or won’t do the day after their bats were tied behind their backs. But we’ll also find out whether the Astros can win a game, if not a World Series, of “Can You Top This?”