Mandatory Credit: Photo by Seth Wenig/AP/Shutterstock (13486527bk) Houston Astros starting pitcher Cristian Javier (53) gets a tap on his shoulder from Alex Bregman (2) as he leaves the game during the sixth inning of Game 3 of an American League Championship baseball series against the New York Yankees, in New York ALCS Astros Yankees Baseball, New York, United States – 22 Oct 2022
Cristian Javier had faced five batters in the last three weeks. In a normal world, this makes him a mop-up guy, someone his manager does not trust in critical situations buried at the back of a big league bullpen. Only a team with extraordinary pitching would ice a guy this good.
Here’s how good Cristian Javier actually is: If he’d pitched 1 2/3 more innings during the regular season, he would have had the 162 innings required to qualify for the ERA title. His 2.54 ERA would be tied for fifth among American League leaders.
One teammate, Justin Verlander (1.75), led the AL while another, Framber Valdez (2.82) finished slightly behind Javier. Verlander is a lock to win his third AL Cy Young Award, while Valdez almost certainly be one of the top five vote-getters because of his workload and consistency.
That’s the company he’s keeping, and on almost any other team, Cristian Javier would be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, at worst. Instead, he was part of a club that led the American League with a microscopic 2.90 ERA and has allowed just four runs to the Yankees in Games 1-3 of the American League Championship Series.
The Astros are a complete club, but their pitching staff surely rivals anything the grand old game has seen in a bunch of Octobers. So when Lance McCuller Jr. banged up his elbow during last weekend’s celebration in Seattle, he was pushed back from Game 3 to Game 4 in this ALCS.
And right there on Saturday evening in Yankee Stadium, Cristian Javier put his game on display in front of the entire world and showed why the Astros seem destined to win the World Series.
In another display for his team’s pitching depth and dominance, Javier tossed 5 1/3 innings of one-hit shutout baseball in a 5-0 victory over the Yankees.
“He has that quiet confidence,” manager Dusty Baker said. “You don’t even know he’s in the room half the time, but you know that he’s very, very alert while he’s in that room.”
After Javier’s departure, Baker finished things off with five relievers, with none of them pitching more than an inning. In an ALCS in which the Yankees and Astros could play on five consecutive days, managing the bullpen is job one.
Now the Astros lead the best-of-seven ALCS three games to zero and can nail down their fourth American League pennant in six seasons as soon as Sunday.
“The guys who have been here are preaching keep your foot on the gas,” Verlander said. “You never know what can happen. The playoffs is a funny thing. Right now, we obviously have some momentum. We’re playing good baseball. But zero complacency. That’s kind of the theme. Just come here tomorrow and try to win a game like we’re down 3-0.”
The Astros are the 40th team to take a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven postseason series. Of the previous 39, only one of them—the 2004 Yankees—did not win the series. And 30 of the 39 swept it.
“It’s not relevant at all,” Jose Altuve said. “We go and play tomorrow like the series is 0-0. That’s the way we show up every night.”
The Yankees have been swept in a best-of-seven series just three times: 2012 ALCS, 1976 World Series, 1963 World Series.
The Astros are one win from sending the Yankees home for the fourth time in the last eight seasons. According to MLB.com‘s Sarah Langs, that would be the most times any team has eliminated the Bronx Bombers. The only teams to be eliminated more than four times by a single opponent were eliminated by the Yankees.
“I mean, they’re really good,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Obviously, I think it starts with their pitching, the starters they’re able to run out there, coupled with a lot of really good arms out of the bullpen. But we got to find a way, and it starts by trying to grab one tomorrow.”
The Astros are 6-0 this postseason, except Saturday’s game was different. After winning the first five contests by a total of seven runs, they had a teensy bit of breathing room in this one.
In a game in which the top three hitters on Baker’s lineup card—Altuve, Jeremy Pena and Yordan Alvarez—were 1 for 14 with seven strikeouts, the Astros nevertheless had their biggest offensive game of the postseason.
Chas McCormick looped an opposite field two-run homer to right field in the second inning off Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, and Javier made that lead hold up until the sixth when a three-run rally broke it open.
Perhaps the key moment of the game came in the bottom of the fifth when Harrison Bader drew a leadoff walk. Javier got Josh Donaldson on a fly ball to left, then catcher Christian Vazquez nailed Bader at second on an attempted steal.
Javier struck out Oswaldo Cabrera to end the inning, and when Alex Bregman led off the top of the sixth with a double to start the three-run rally, the Yankees surely knew where this one was headed.
“Well, I don’t know if dominant’s the word,” Baker said. “I mean, all of ’em are close except tonight. So I don’t think about being dominant. I just think about just scoring one more run than they score and winning the ball game.”
Actually, Yankee fans seemed to know where it was headed after McCormick’s homer when the place when from a roaring celebration to eerily silent.
Except for the boos. Aaron Judge, who is 1 for 12 in the ALCS, was loudly booed after his sixth-inning strikeout. He’s hitting .083, but that’s only slightly worse than the Yankees .128 team batting average. In short, they’ve been dominated.
“We’re a confident team,” reliever Ryne Stanek said. “We know what we’re capable of as a team, and everybody kind of holds everybody else accountable by their actions. You don’t want to be the one falling behind anybody by not putting the work in and letting the boys down. I think that’s just how we’re built.”