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No-No way! Cristian Javier dazzles in combined no-hitter to flummox Phillies, tie World Series

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World Series Astros Phillies Baseball

Houston Astros relief pitcher Ryan Pressly and catcher Christian Vazquez celebrate the Astros' win in Game 4 of baseball's World Series between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in Philadelphia. The Astros won 5-0 with a combined no-hitter to tie the series two games all. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PHILADELPHIA — It took the least experienced starter in Houston's October-ready rotation to pitch the Astros back into the World Series with a dramatic, dominant performance not seen at this level in ages and never seen before in November.

Cristian Javier pitched six no-hit innings to overwhelm the Phillies and start Houston toward the first combined no-hitter in World Series history and 5-0 victory Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.

At some point in the late innings, the sellout crowd in South Philly, a 45,693-strong group that included Bruce Springsteen, shifted from buzzing for a win and a commanding lead in the Fall Classic to wishing for a hit to avoid a loss becoming history. Houston closer Ryan Pressly, the fourth Astros pitcher of the game, slipped around a one-out walk to complete the first no-hitter in World Series history since 1956. Phillies catcher J. T. Realmuto grounded out for the final out of the game.

In the first World Series start of his career, Javier’s brilliance tied the best-of-seven series at two games apiece and assured Houston will get a chance to go home to Minute Maid Park before the championship is settled.

All five runs came in a single-inning burst for the Astros as they solved the Phillies’ bullpen for the first time in the series. Alex Bregman delivered a two-run double in the midst of a rally that ended Houston’s scoreless streak after 16 innings.

Javier’s six innings were the deepest a single pitcher had gone into a World Series no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956.

In only his second postseason start and first in the World Series, Javier struck out nine. He baffled a Phillies lineup that had scored 42 runs in its first six home games this season and bludgeoned opponents with 22 home runs at the Bank. Through the first half of the game, Javier threw 21 sliders and the Phillies had made contact on only one, sending it meekly foul.

Following catcher Christian Vazquez’s lead and aggressive use of the fastball, Javier, 25, challenged Bryce Harper with only fastballs through two plate appearances. The right-hander struck out five consecutive at one point. He got two weak grounders to end his outing and could not press on for history having needed 97 pitches to get 18 outs.

The Phillies got only two runners to second base against Javier.

Both had to steal it to get that far.

In two starts during these playoffs, Javier has allowed one hit in 11 1/3 innings, and he’s yet to allow a run. If the series gets to a Game 7, the right-hander would be available for Houston because he cut the Game 4 start short of 100 pitches.

The combined no-hitter was the second of the season for the Astros and second started by Javier. In June, he and Pressly were two of the three pitchers who authored a no-hitter at Yankee Stadium.

On Wednesday, Bryan Abreu first relieved Javier and struck out all three batters he faced. Right-hander Rafael Montero followed with a strong eighth inning to place the no-hitter in Pressly’s hand. It took him 19 pitches to put the finishing touches on a box score headed into history and a World Series now headed into a best-of-three present.

Astros turn a bruise into a rally

Including the shutout Tuesday in Game 3, Houston had failed to score in 16 consecutive innings and had yet to score at all against the Phillies’ bullpen.

They did both in the fifth inning uprising.

It all started with a bruise.

Philadelphia starter Aaron Nola pressed into the fifth inning and that dicey third time through the order. He just danced around trouble in the fourth before more greeted him the fifth.

In the fourth inning, two singles brought the back third of the Astros’ lineup to the plate with a chance to end the scoreless stretch. That was where Nola found his way out. Twice, former Cardinals infielder Aledmys Diaz hit with a runner in scoring position against Nola, and each time he struggled. His strikeout in the second inning gave Nola safe passage to another scoreless, and in the fourth inning Diaz’s groundball ended the inning.

The fifth did not begin as favorably.

Nola, the Phillies’ Game 1 starter, allowed singles to the first three batters he faced, including leadoff hitter Jose Altuve and No. 2 hitter Jeremy Pena. While the offense dealt with Javier’s no-hit start, Nola left the bullpen to deal with the three-hit mess. It got worse. Reliever Jose Alvarado ruined the scoreless tie with the first pitch he delivered.

A 99.2-mph sinker stung Yordan Alvarez to force home the first run.

Three pitches later, Alvarado had an 0-2 count on Houston’s Alex Bregman, and went back to the sinker. This time it was Bregman that did the bruising. Bregman drove a 100.7-mph sinker to the right-field corner to score two teammates and really put the rally in motion. All three runners Nola left behind scored in the span of five pitches.

Houston added a sacrifice fly and Yuli Gurriel’s RBI single to the inning.

A day after the Phillies had seven runs on five home runs in a game, Houston had five runs on four singles, a hit batter, and a double in an inning. It was an island of offense in game defined by the Phillies’ search for any at all.

Javier’s first whiff of dominance

At the same time the Astros conjured runs, Javier was deep into the best of his magic act.

In the fourth and fifth innings, Houston’s right-hander struck out five consecutive Phillies, breezing quickly through the middle of the Philadelphia order. All five strikeouts came on fastballs. He started by overpowering Realmuto with a 95.2-mph fastball for the first out of the fourth inning, and then struck out Harper and Nick Castellanos on 93.3 mph and 93.6 mph fastballs, respectively.

Harper’s at-bat took three pitches.

All fastballs.

He didn’t put any in play.

The three strikeouts in the fourth inning were all swinging. In the fifth, Javier changed the type of strikeout but not the approach. He blistered two-strike, 93.2-mph fastballs by both Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott for called strike threes. The threat of his slider froze both Phillies.

Power outage

In a stunning whiplash, Phillies celebrity fan Miles Teller saw his hometown team go from slugging to an emphatic win in Game 3 to searching. Five of the Phillies’ hitters hit five home runs in the first innings of Tuesday’s game, and all five of them came against Houston starter Lance McCullers Jr. Unfazed, Javier made it difficult for that group to get the ball in play, let alone send it anywhere it might find fans, other than foul.

And even that was mostly weak contact.

The five Phillies hit who hit home runs in Game 3 were a combined zero-for-12 entering the ninth inning. Bohm, who hit the 1,000th home run in World Series history on Tuesday, struck out in each of his first three at-bats. The only ones of the five to reach base were Harper and Brandon Marsh drawing walks. Javier expediently neutralized any trouble those might cause. Harper drew a leadoff walk in the second inning and even got to second base on a steal, but he only saw a popup from there to end the inning.

Javier followed the walk with two strikeouts.

In the third, Marsh drew a one-out walk and, like Harper, stole second to get into scoring position in what was still a scoreless tie. The next two batters – leadoff hitter Kyle Schwarber and No. 2 hitter Rhys Hoskins – failed to get the ball out of the infield on Javier, and the no-hit start began its second tour through the Phillies’ lineup.

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