PHILADELPHIA - The Houston Astros just made history by becoming the first team to ever throw a combined no-hitter in a playoff game. The only other no-hitter in World Series history was Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. If we include the entire playoffs, Roy Halladay's Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS no-hitter in this same ballpark is all that remains. There are now three playoff no-hitters.
The Astros have tied the series, 2-2, in the best-of-seven Fall Classic. They needed this one, too.
In media circles, it's a bit of a running joke to ask managers if a game is a "must-win." In all likelihood, the Astros didn't come into Game 4 of the 2022 World Series -- trailing 2-1 to the Phillies in the best-of-seven series -- thinking it was a must-win game. But man, they sure needed it. Falling down three games to one with Game 5 being played in Philadelphia would've been a very bad idea.
No worries, starting pitcher Cristian Javier said with his right arm.
The Phillies offense that came back from a 5-0 deficit to win Game 1 and pounded five homers for seven runs in Game 3 was stifled from the get-go by Javier. He dominated. He got through his six innings without having allowed a hit and letting just two hitters reach base.
The final line: 6 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K. He was removed after six innings at 97 pitches (Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly finished the no-no), though it almost seemed like he barely broke a sweat with how expertly he carved up his opponent.
Javier became the first pitcher in World Series history to get through five no-hit innings with nine strikeouts. This was the first no-hit bid of at least six innings since Jerry Koosman flirted with a no-no in Game 2 of the 1969 World Series for the Mets. Javier tied Koosman for the second longest World Series no-hit bid since Don Larsen's perfect game, trailing only Jim Lonberg (7 2/3 innings, 1967 Game 2 for the Red Sox).
Javier did a good amount of this while the Astros offense continued to scuffle. Remember, they were shut out in Game 3. Through four innings in Game 4 on Wednesday night, it was 0-0. This is to say that Javier's margin for error in a probably-should-win (not a must-win!) game was razor thin. Any pressure he felt did not show.
He relied very heavily on his mid-90s fastball, throwing it 70 times of his 97 pitches. Remember, the Phillies punished off-speed offerings for a light-tower-power display in Game 3. Javier mixed in his slider effectively, getting five swings and misses out of the eight times the Phillies swung at it.
He did walk two, but overall the key was pounding the strike zone and getting ahead in the count.
"The plan is going to be continue to throw a lot of strikes and attack the strike zone," Javier said earlier in the week when asked of his upcoming start. He executed the plan brilliantly.
He only gave up three hard-hit balls all night and the Phillies really didn't even flirt with a hit off of him. As noted, it was true dominance.
"He was electric," manager Dusty Baker said afterward. "He threw the ball up, down, and that shows you that the best pitch in baseball is still the well-located fastball. He was calm, cool."
Not that any of this should've been all that shocking. I know he's only slotted as the Astros' No. 4, but he's been one of the better pitchers in the majors for a bit.
Javier has had the lowest batting average allowed in all of baseball the last two seasons. On June 25, he threw seven no-hit innings against the Yankees, striking out 13 in part of a different combined no-hitter. In his next outing, he allowed just one Angels hit in seven innings with 14 strikeouts. He closed the regular season with 23 scoreless innings in his last four starts, allowing only six hits in that stretch. He had a 1.79 ERA in the second half.
"He was very, very electric tonight with the fastball," catcher Christian Vázquez said. "I think that's the way he is and we always expecting that. And I think that's the best fastball right now in baseball."
As a reminder, he was the Astros No. 4 starter in this series. You could argue he should slot above Lance McCullers, Jr. -- especially after Game 3 -- but the point remains that this was a reminder of just how pitching deep the Astros are.
Now that they've avoided losing the probably-should-win game, the series is tied, 2-2, with Game 5 in Philadelphia before the Astros get to return home to Minute Maid Park for Game 6 and, if necessary, Game 7.
If they can pull off the World Series championship, Cristian Javier's outing in Game 4 will serve as a turning point. If not, hey, he led the charge on his team making history.