John McClain: Thanks to Javier, Astros in good shape heading to Game 5

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Gail Burton/AP/Shutterstock (13419365e) Houston Astros pitcher Christian Javier delivers against the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning of a baseball game, in Baltimore Astros Orioles Baseball, Baltimore, United States – 25 Sep 2022

John McClain: Thanks to Javier, Astros in good shape heading to Game 5

The Astros were in desperation mode, down 2-1 in the World Series and facing the possibility of a 3-1 deficit against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

Not only did pitcher Cristian Javier answer the SOS by providing his teammates with a 5-0 lifeline that evened the series 2-2 and stole back home-field advantage on Wednesday night, but he helped them do it in historical fashion.

In his first World Series start, Javier was unfazed by the hostile atmosphere, pitching six innings, striking out nine, walking two, and, most impressively, allowing no hits.

With Javier overpowering and demoralizing the Phillies, he seemed to inspire his bullpen because Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly didn’t surrender a hit, either. They combined to throw the second no-hitter in World Series history and the first since 1956 when Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in a Yankees victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In his 55 years in Major League Baseball as a player, coach and manager, Dusty Baker thought he’d seen it all. Then his team no-hit the Phillies in their ballpark. He’s been part of two of the three postseason no-hitters.

As the Reds’ manager in the National League Division Series in 2010, Baker was on the wrong side of a no-hitter thrown by the Phillies’ Roy Halladay.

“Yeah, I was on the other end in this ballpark,” he said. “That’s what’s strange about life. That’s pretty remarkable. I’ve been on both ends for two out of three. This is a daily game, and it’s filled with daily emotions. All our guys were poised and ready and strong.”

As for Javier’s performance, Baker said, “He was electric. He threw the ball up (and), down, and that shows you the best pitch in baseball is still the well-located fastball. He was calm, cool.

“(Christian) Vázquez called a great game for him. I think that’s the first time I’ve seen two guys with the same first name as a battery, so maybe that was part of it.”

Javier – the Astros’ fourth starter behind Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers Jr. – produced one of the most clutch performances in playoff history. Not only did he resuscitate a team coming off a shutout defeat, but he silenced the Philadelphia bats that smashed five home runs off McCullers in Game 3.

Javier’s parents witnessed his performance, his father for the first time. He said they told him before the game he would pitch a no-hitter.

“When they told me that, obviously, I got a lot more motivated,” he said. “I knew I had a big commitment being down 2-1 in the series. With my parents being here, I just tried to give my best, give my family the best I could. Having my dad here so he could enjoy the success I’ve had and enjoy the game, as well.

“My mom got an opportunity to see me pitch in the past. My dad arrived (Tuesday) to the United States. It was the best gift I could have given them. I know they’re really proud of me for what I was able to accomplish.”

Javier is no stranger to no-hitters. He started a game against the Yankees this season and was part of that collective no-hitter, too. He wasn’t bothered pitching in front of the rabid Phillies fans who did everything they could to distract him.

“I just try to stay focused, keep calm, and attack the hitter as quickly as possible,” he said. “I really don’t think I could change my plan of attack. I just needed to stay positive. I thought my fastball was really good, and I was able to get a lot of swings and misses.”

Pitching wasn’t the only outstanding part of the Astros’ victory. Their bats came alive at The Bank, accumulating 10 hits, including a two-run double by Alex Bregman in a five-run fifth inning. Bregman’s opposite-field hit on an 0-2 count against hard-throwing reliever Jose Alvarado may have been the Astros’ most impressive at-bat in the World Series.

“It was a pass-the-baton kind of inning,” Bregman said about chasing starter Aaron Nola by loading the bases with no outs and then touching up Alvarado. “Guys putting together good, quality at-bats, swinging at pitches that were good pitches to hit, each guy not trying to do too much, just staying within themselves.

“I was just trying to put a good swing on a pitch and put the ball in play. And then I thought (Kyle) Tucker did a fantastic job after that of moving the guy over and getting one in. And then Yuli (Gurriel) came up with a big hit to add insurance. We were all focused on winning. There was nothing else on our mind, and we’re going to keep that mentality.”

The Astros are turning to Verlander for Game 5 and a chance to win back-to-back games and return to Houston with a 3-2 advantage. Like McCullers in Game 3, Verlander was shelled in his first start. He has a great opportunity to recover his World Series reputation that’s been sullied by his 0-6 record and 6.07 ERA.

“He’s locked in (and) he’s focused,” Bregman said. “He’s ready to go, ready to compete, ready to attack. I tell you, every single person in that clubhouse has the most confidence in the world in him. He’s a Hall of Famer for a reason. We look forward to having him on the mound.”

This could be Verlander’s last start as an Astro. He’s expected to opt out of the last year of a contract that would pay him $25 million next season.

“It’s premature,” Verlander said about the possibility that Game 5 could be his last start with the Astros. “Really and truly, it’s been a hell of a ride no matter what happens, whether I stay or don’t. I’ve really enjoyed my time with this group of guys and getting to know the city. And it’s really been a blessing and a wonderful time in my career.

“I’m trying not to think about it. I’ve just tried to be more in the moment and be present and enjoy the ride and, yeah, that’ll happen whenever it happens. We’ll see.”

It sounds strange, but Verlander has big shoes to fill. In two starts in the playoffs, including his dominating Wednesday night performance, Javier has allowed one hit. His other start was at Yankees Stadium in the Astros’ sweep of the American League Championship Series.

Javier, whose fastball is usually around 95 miles an hour, threw 97 pitches. Seventy were fastballs to catcher Vazquez, who helped the Red Sox win their last World Series in 2018. Javier had pinpoint location on a fastball that moves. He threw two pitches, his fastball and slider.

“We read all the swings during the game, when they don’t show you a good swing with the fastball, we continue to throw it,” Vazquez said. “That’s the way we called the game, and it was effective.

“(When Javier is) on the mound, we’re expecting a great fastball and a great slider. He was very, very electric with the fastball. I think that’s the best fastball in baseball right now.” 

Javier struck out the side in the fourth, getting J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos to go down swinging. That set up the Astros’ eruption in the fifth against Nola and Alvarado.

Chas McCormick, Jose Altuve and Jeremy Pena reached on singles, loading the bases with no outs. Nola was replaced by Alvarado, whose first pitch hit Yordan Alvarez, forcing in the first run. Then Bregman launched his clutch double to right field to make it 3-0.

Tucker’s sacrifice fly, and Gurriel’s single driving in Bregman elevated the lead to 5-0. Javier, Abreu, Montero and Pressly took it from there with the historical finish.

“It’s crazy,” Bregman said. “We grew up watching the World Series. We know baseball’s been going on for a long, long time, so to be a teammate on a team that did that and what Javy and all the guys did is really special. It’s a moment we’ll all remember forever.”

(John McClain writes four columns a week for He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on

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