How do you quiet a lineup which is not only stacked with some of the brawniest sluggers in the game—dudes who make their livings hitting homers that can send a stadium into hysterics—but is a mere 24 hours removed from hitting five such homers in a single World Series game? The first solution that comes to most people’s minds probably does not involve throwing as many fastballs as possible to those beefy boys, which is why most people are not fit to start Game 4 of the World Series. Cristian Javier is not most people.
Javier took the mound on Wednesday night for an Astros team that was not only down 2-1 in the World Series, but facing a locked-in Phillies lineup that was threatening to turn the series’ stint in Philadelphia into a bacchanal of dingers ending in a trophy presentation. Javier gave them six no-hit innings, nine strikeouts, and had the biggest hand in authoring the first World Series no-hitter since 1956.
(A brief note on the combined no-hitter: It’s neat, but nowhere near deserving of being mentioned in same breath as Don Larsen’s perfect game. What makes a perfect game or no-hitter impressive, and thrilling to watch, is the feeling that comes from witnessing someone, toiling under increasing pressure and precarity, push themselves beyond a limit. A no-hitter should exist in the same register as a tightrope walk between skyscrapers, or a record-setting marathon run. It’s the individual journey that makes it special.)
How Javier went about completing his six no-hit innings constitutes one of the more impressive postseason pitching performances in recent memory. He threw 97 pitches, and 70 of those were four-seam fastballs. The Phillies couldn’t do a damn thing with any of them, because Javier has a heater that is particularly hard to square up. The average velocity of his fastball in Game 4 was 93 mph, so he’s not just blowing people away. His success instead comes from his ability to precisely locate the pitch, and from how little vertical drop the pitch experiences as it enters the strike zone. Javier has one of those four-seamers that people describe as has having “late life,” or a “rising action” right before it meets the catcher’s glove. All this means is that his heater stays on its vertical plane longer than most other fastballs, and ends up crossing the plate just a little above where hitters are expecting it. “It’s the best fastball I’ve ever seen,” said Javier’s catcher, Christian Vazquez, when he was asked about the pitch after the game.
The Phillies swung a lot in Game 4, and nothing came of it. They took 41 hacks at Javier’s fastball, whiffed on six of them, fouled off 27, and put eight balls in play with a measly average exit velocity of 84.6 mph. It was funny to watch the game unfold the way it did, one day after the Phillies tore up Lance McCullers so bad that it was hard not to conclude that they knew what pitches were coming. They knew what pitches were coming on Wednesday night, too, because Javier wasn’t all that concerned with concealing his intentions. All nine pitches Javier threw to Bryce Harper, the hottest hitter in the postseason, were fastballs. Harper drew a walk in his first plate appearance and struck out on three pitches in the second.
It’s tempting to say that Javier and his fastball bullied the Phillies into submission, but that doesn’t quite capture what happened. Sometimes when you watch a great pitcher tame a great lineup, you get the sense that the guy on the mound is physically and psychologically torturing the guys at the plate. He’s glaring at them, muttering things under his breath, outsmarting them, and selecting his pitches in sequences designed to maximally humiliate his opponents. That’s not what Javier was up to. It never felt like he was locked in any kind of physical or mental battle with the Phillies, but rather like the Phillies weren’t even there. He was quiet. His rhythm never changed, one smoothly delivered fastball came after the other, and the look on his face was that of a man who had somehow managed to negate all thoughts other than throw the ball at the mitt. I guess that’s how you solve the problem of having to pitch to a bunch of guys who want nothing more than to take you deep and get another party started: you make it so they don’t even exist.