PHILADELPHIA — Hammered the night before, Cristian Javier and the Houston Astros desperately needed to figure how to keep Bryce Harper and the Phillies in the ballpark.
How about a no-hitter, would that do?
Javier and Houston’s bullpen combined on just the second no-hitter in World Series history, silencing a booming lineup and boisterous fans as the Astros blanked the Phillies 5-0 Wednesday night to even the matchup at two games each.
The only previous no-hitter in the World Series was a perfect game by Don Larsen of the New York Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956.
Javier and three relievers weren’t perfect, but they were close. Plus, they’d done this before: Javier, the starter in a combined no-hitter against the New York Yankees in June, was pulled with a no-hitter in progress after 97 pitches this time.
Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly each followed with a hitless inning, ensuring this year’s championship will be decided this weekend back at Minute Maid Park.
The quartet of pitchers posed with catcher Christian Vázquez near the visiting dugout moments after the game, each putting a hand on the game ball for a photo. It’s a picture no one could’ve envisioned 24 hours earlier, when Philadelphia clubbed a Series record-tying five home runs in a 7-0 romp in Game 3.
“That’s crazy, man,” Vázquez said. “It was special.”
Javier said his parents predicted Tuesday night he was going to throw a no-hitter.
“I just came out holding onto God, trying to be positive, trying to attack the strike zone,” he said via translator. “Thanks to God I was able to accomplish that.”
Game 5 is on Thursday night in Philly. Astros ace Justin Verlander will again chase that elusive first World Series win when he faces Noah Syndergaard.
They can only hope to pitch as well as Javier.
By the time the 25-year-old righty from the Dominican Republic exited, the only hit maker on the Philadelphia side who showed up on the scoreboard was rocker Bruce Springsteen, pictured surrounded by Phillies fans.
And a few innings later, as fans started leaving Citizens Bank Park, there actually were boos for postseason star Harper and the Phillies. First lady Jill Biden, a noted Phillies fan, was among those in the crowd of 45,693 who had little to shout about.
“For me? I mean, a loss is a loss,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “That’s the way I kind of look at it.”
Alex Bregman delivered the hit Houston desperately needed, a two-run double in a five-run fifth inning, and that was plenty for the Astros.
Completely in charge, Javier struck out nine, walked two and hardly allowed any loud contact. He tamed a club that had been 6-0 at home this postseason while hitting 17 home runs.
Opponents hit only .170 against Javier during the regular season, the lowest mark in baseball among pitchers with at least 130 innings.
Very still on the mound, Javier carved his own quiet spot in the middle of the Phillies’ storm. Backing off onto the grass, straightening his hat, rubbing the ball, taking deep breaths, he proceeded at his own pace.
Next year, Javier won’t be able to work quite this way. Major League Baseball is instituting a pitch clock — 15 seconds to throw with the bases empty, 20 with someone on base — and Javier often surpassed those limits on this evening, drawing boos from a crowd eager for action.
Anyhow, it worked at the start.
When Javier held the Phillies scoreless through the first three innings, it was no small feat. No visiting pitcher had done that during the postseason in this bouncing ballpark.
In Javier’s last start, he shut out the Yankees on one hit in 5 1/3 innings in the Bronx during the AL Championship Series.
This performance by Javier came a year after Atlanta’s Ian Anderson was taken out after pitching five hitless innings against Houston.
The closest the Phillies came to a hit was in the third inning, when Kyle Schwarber grounded a hard foul past first base. On fair balls, nothing.
“It’s cool,” Schwarber said, sarcastically. “We’ll be in the history books I guess.”
Philadelphia was no-hit by five New York Mets pitchers in April, one of several crushing losses that led to manager Joe Girardi’s firing two months later.
“We came back the next day and won,” said Thomson, then the bench coach. “So these guys, they got a short memory.”
Maybe it was the team’s switch to orange tops, or the lucky lunch manager Dusty Baker had at a Philly hoagie spot, but the Astros sure looked different than the previous night, when they got shut out on a feeble five singles.
Blanked for 16 innings, Bregman and the Astros showed their postseason pedigree while breaking out against Aaron Nola in the fifth, putting on a hitting clinic by not trying to do too much at the plate.
Singles by Chas McCormick, Altuve and Jeremy Peña loaded the bases and finished Nola. Relief pitcher José Alvarado plunked Yordan Alvarez with his first pitch, forcing in a run, and then Bregman lined a 100 mph heater the other way for a two-run double.
Kyle Tucker followed with a sacrifice fly and Yuli Gurriel added an RBI single, and just like that, for the fourth game in a row, a team held a 5-0 lead.
Houston’s hits resonated far away, too.
Chants of “Let’s go, Astros!” erupted when highlights and the score were shown at the Toyota Center as the Houston Rockets hosted the Los Angeles Clippers in an NBA game.
And there figure to be Astros cheers at NRG Stadium in Houston on Thursday night when the Texans take on the Philadelphia Eagles, the NFL’s only unbeaten team, in a matchup that’ll be play at the same time as Game 5.
It was quiet in Philly, though, as fans who came wanting to see a win were reduced to merely hoping for a hit.
Astros: Verlander is 0-6 with a 6.07 ERA in eight World Series starts after failing to hold a five-run lead in the opener. Verlander is likely to win his third Cy Young Award later this month, but his struggles in the Fall Classic are perplexing. Then again, Hall of Famers Greg Maddux and Tom Seaver had losing records in the Fall Classic despite often pitching well, and Don Sutton got hit hard. And fellow Cooperstown members Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina had sub-.500 marks in the postseason.
Phillies: RHP Noah Syndergaard had been set to start Game 3 before it was washed out Monday night. He’s pitched three times this postseason — including a three-inning start vs. Atlanta — and allowed one run in five innings. His last start full-fledged start was Oct. 1.