PHILADELPHIA — Pitching like a Game 1 starter, the young right-hander Cristian Javier put on a clinic on a night when Houston needed something good, throwing six no-hit innings at Philadelphia to start the first combined no-hitter in World Series history.
Javier’s outing positioned the Astros for a 5-0, World Series-tying win in a Game 4 classic. Bryan Abreu struck out the side in the seventh inning, Rafael Montero worked a 1-2-3 eighth and then Ryan Pressly lifted the Astros into the history books with a hitless ninth inning.
Only Don Larsen of the Yankees has ever thrown a solo no hitter in the World Series. That was a perfect game in Game 5 in 1956, when catcher Yogi Berra famously leaped into his arms to celebrate. Wednesday, Houston catcher Christian Vázquez had his choice of pitchers with whom to celebrate.
Javier started hot and turned blazing as his pitches piled up. The starter in Houston’s combined no-hitter in Yankee Stadium earlier this summer, Javier walked two and struck out nine and was never threatened by the Phillies.
And it came on a night when the Astros needed a hero.
Urgency steals into the World Series overnight as an unwelcome intruder. High hopes and rampant expectations bring easy color to the first couple of days. But one too many losses and, suddenly, the nights turn restless and the days jittery.
The Astros were pushed to that edge Wednesday following their Game 3 bludgeoning. A team that made it to the World Series without losing was left talking about wringing out just one win in Philadelphia to force a trip back home. Could the Astros answer the wake-up call? Could they get their bats moving in time?
Javier provided that time in Game 4. He blasted through Philadelphia’s lineup with the fury of an ace looking to save an autumn.
As Javier obliterated the Phillies, Astros hitters continued spinning the combination lock that was their offense until the right numbers appeared. A team that ranked third in the American League in runs scored this season fell into a 16-inning scoring drought that started in Game 2 and stretched through the first four innings of Game 4. Frustration was evident. The Astros were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position.
Then, finally, the breakthrough came in the fifth. Three straight singles loaded the bases and ended Philadelphia starter Aaron Nola’s night. As he did in Game 1, Phillies Manager Rob Thomson aggressively called for the left-handed reliever José Alvarado, who normally pitches later in games, to come in to face the left-handed Yordan Alvarez.
It worked in Game 1, when Alvarado induced a pop-up and subdued the Astros.
But Wednesday, Alvarado drilled Alvarez with his first pitch, a 99-mile-per-hour fastball. That forced in Houston’s first run, and the inning would deteriorate from there for the Phillies.
Though Alvarado jumped ahead of the next hitter, putting Alex Bregman into an 0 and 2 hole, Bregman fought back by belting a two-run double to push Houston’s lead to 3-0. Kyle Tucker’s sacrifice fly and Yuli Gurriel’s R.B.I. single extended it to 5-0.
The way Javier was pitching, that was all Houston needed. With every strikeout, any thought of Justin Verlander’s failure to hold a 5-0 lead for the Astros in Game 1 receded farther and farther.
Though he didn’t get the ball until Game 4, Javier has surrendered only one run since Sept. 8. A 25-year-old whom the Astros signed as an undrafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, he played the outfield as a youth and did not transition to pitching until he was 16.
He made a career-high 25 starts this summer and worked five other games in relief. He led the American League in opponent batting average this summer (.170) among those with a minimum of 130 innings pitched, and he ranked second in strikeouts per nine innings at 11.74.
That is who he was against the Phillies. During one stretch covering the fourth and fifth innings, he fanned five consecutive hitters — J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos, Alec Bohm and Bryson Scott.
He allowed just two base runners over his six innings: a leadoff walk to Harper in the second and a one-out walk to Brandon Marsh in the third. Two strikeouts and a pop fly to shortstop left Harper stranded. A strikeout and a foul ball did the same with Marsh.
All of it was what the Astros needed, especially because more ominous signs of offensive futility were flashing early. Tucker started the second inning by hooking a double into the right-field corner. It was Houston’s first extra-base hit since Bregman’s fifth-inning home run in Game 2. But the Astros, needing early momentum to change the tone of this series, blew the chance.
Tucker moved to third on Gurriel’s ground ball. Nola, who had thrown 18 of his 22 pitches for strikes when Tucker doubled and had exhibited pinpoint control, then hit Vázquez with a pitch to put Astros on first and third. But then he fanned Aledmys Díaz with an 88-m.p.h. knuckle-curveball, and then threw another curve past Chas McCormick for strike three to end the inning.
At that point, it appeared as if Nola, and not Javier, would be the story of this evening. But there was a long way to go, and Javier simply got better and better.
“There is more urgency,” Houston Manager Dusty Baker said before Game 4, mostly in response to a question hinting about whether he would have a quicker hook with his pitchers than he did in the Game 3 7-0 blowout. “But at the same time, there’s a difference between the urgency and panic. There’s a fine line between ‘em.”
Sage thoughts then, and reinforced on a pitch-by-pitch basis by Javier on a night when the Astros needed everything they could get.