PHILADELPHIA — The baseball sitting on a concrete post in the bowels of Citizens Bank Park is heading to Cooperstown, along with a rosin bag and the scorebook kept by FOX broadcaster John Smoltz during Game 4 of the World Series. The scorebook shows that on Wednesday night in Philadelphia, the Phillies did not record a single hit as the Astros won 5-0. The baseball contains five signatures: Houston Astros catcher Christian Vázquez, relievers Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly, and the man who originally threw it: Cristian Javier, whose name is right under the World Series logo. Together, they threw the first combined no-hitter in postseason history — the second no-hitter ever in the World Series, third ever in the postseason.
When you put it like that, how could it be anything other than shocking? Practically a once-in-a-lifetime event. But insofar as these things ever do — and all no-hitters are a little bit fluky — it actually sorta makes sense. Or at least, the name on the front of the baseball does.
This season, as pitching dominated and putting the ball in play continued to disappear as an offensive strategy, one pitcher in particular excelled at preventing hits. His .169 batting average against in the regular season was the fourth lowest (minimum 140 innings) since 1920, just above Nolan Ryan’s .171 in 1972.
It’s not that surprising that he pitches for the Astros. Combined, Houston’s pitchers allowed the second-fewest hits in baseball (behind the Dodgers) and accumulated the most WAR in the regular season. This postseason has highlighted that their strength is not just sheer ability but also in numbers — there are virtually no weak links on the Astros’ pitching staff. So maybe it stands to reason that — before Wednesday night, anyway — you might’ve needed a couple guesses to get the owner of that historically low opponent batting average.
Not Justin Verlander, the presumptive Cy Young award winner. Not Framber Valdez, who set a record for quality starts this season while ascending to co-ace status. And even if you ignored the innings qualifier, it wouldn’t be Lance McCullers Jr., the stalwart of the rotation.
Cristian Javier signed out of the Dominican Republic in March 2015. He was a week away from his 18th birthday, which means all 30 teams spent almost two years opting not to sign him for the $10,000 pittance the Astros eventually offered him. He debuted during the 2020 pandemic season after Verlander went down with an injury just after opening day. Before this year, he had more appearances out of the bullpen than as part of the rotation and never started a game in the postseason. He started 2022 in the bullpen before graduating to a full-time starting role. He made one relief appearance in the division series and one start in the championship series.
But even as he’s flown under the radar, Javier has been the best in baseball at not giving up hits. It’s not just this year, with his league-leading .169 batting average against; since his debut in 2020, Javier has allowed the lowest batting average to opposite hitters (minimum 300 innings) — .177, with Corbin Burnes second at .194.
In June, Javier held the Yankees hitless for seven innings in what became a combined no-hitter. And on Wednesday in Philadelphia — in Game 4 of a World Series his team was trailing two games to one — Javier held a Phillies lineup that exploded for five home runs just one day earlier hitless for six innings.
“That shows you that the best pitch in baseball is still the well-located fastball,” his manager Dusty Baker said after the win.
“I think that's the best fastball right now in baseball,” Vázquez said. “You can call it anytime. No matter who is in the batter's box, you can call it and it's going to be success with that pitch.”
Javier works predominantly with two pitches: the four-seam fastball and the slider. (“When you think you got a chance with the fastball and he throws you the slider,” Vázquez said, “and it's a big slider.”) But mostly, it’s the fastball that fools hitters. It’s not fast — at least not relative to a league where velocity reigns and even the average fastball is in the upper 90s this postseason — but its lack of drop makes it look like it’s rising. Because it’s not where hitters expect it to be, it’s called the “invisiball.” And because he stays cool and unflustered in even the most stressful situations, Javier is called “El Reptil.”
Even, apparently, in what was effectively a must-win World Series game with added personal significance. In the stands at Citizens Bank Park were Javier’s parents: his mom, Trinidad Mieses, with whom he is close; and his dad, Cecilio Javier, who had arrived in the country yesterday to watch him pitch in person for the very first time.
“It was the best gift that I could have ever given them,” Javier said. “I know that they're really proud of me for what I was able to accomplish today.”
With his performance in Game 4, Javier made history: the only pitcher other than Don Larsen to finish a World Series outing of at least six innings without allowing a hit; and the first pitcher to start two combined no-hitters in his career (and in one season).
In a testament to both his ability to roll with the punches and the Astros’ unrelenting phalanx of unhittable pitchers, Javier will now return to the bullpen. Baker admitted postgame that he had already started thinking about how much he could give them in a potential Game 7 — two, maybe three, innings on three days rest after authoring one of the greatest World Series starts of all time.
For now, though, Baker said, “he certainly put himself on the map.”