Four Astros pitchers combine to throw no-hitter, flip outlook of World Series

Houston Astross relief pitcher Rafael Montero, relief pitcher Bryan Abreu, starting pitcher Cristian Javier, catcher Christian Vazquez, and relief pitcher Ryan Pressly, from left, celebrate a combined no hitter after Game 4 of baseball's World Series between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies. (Matt Slocum/AP)

TORONTO – The situational swings in the post-season are wild enough that the Houston Astros could head into Game 4 in some real trouble, only to emerge from the pivotal contest well-positioned to take control of the World Series on Thursday.

Cristian Javier keyed the first combined no-hitter ever in the playoffs with six dominant innings and along with a slump-busting fifth-inning rally, flipped the outlook for both teams in a big way Wednesday night, when a 5-0 Astros win evened the Fall Classic at two games apiece.

Bryan Abreu in the seventh, Rafael Montero in the eighth and Ryan Pressly in the ninth finished off a text-book night of pitching for Houston. The only other no-hitter in World Series history was Don Larson’s perfect game for the Yankees against the Dodgers in 1956, while Roy Halladay threw the only other post-season no-no, for the Phillies against the Reds in 2010.

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Justin Verlander starts Game 5 against Noah Syndergaard and if that on-paper mismatch plays out at Citizens Bank Park, the Astros will head home to Houston with a chance to lock up the second championship in franchise history.

That’s a total reversal of the scenario they faced after Lance McCullers Jr. was pounded for five homers during a 7-0 Philadelphia romp Tuesday. Not only did that give the Phillies an edge of the series, it also seemingly gave them the high ground as they didn’t need leverage arms Jose Alvarado, Seranthony Dominguez, Zach Eflin and David Robertson to lock it down.

Having each of them available to potentially pitch on back-to-back days meant any early lead would have really ratcheted up the heat on the Astros. Instead, they ended a 16-inning run drought during that decisive fifth and dialled the pressure right back up on the Phillies.

“Obviously there was a big momentum shift (Tuesday) night, one of the things as a team is you don’t shy away from that,” Verlander told reporters before the game. “We understand what happened and obviously that shortens the series, it shortens it in their favour. But at the same time, we have been a part of a lot of post-seasons where we come back and win a couple and the momentum changes right back.

“So the lesson is just to turn the page and get ready for the next day. That’s all you can do. You don’t want to put your head down and feel sorry about what happened the night before. That’s yesterday’s news. Come and do everything can you to win a ball game today.”

Javier set the tone in that regard by immediately establishing that there’d be no repeat of the McCullers beatdown with a three-up, three-down first and rolling from there. Walks to Bryce Harper in the second and Brandon Marsh in the third were the only blemishes against the right-hander, who threw a fastball that sat at 93.8 m.p.h. 70 times in his 97 pitches.

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The Phillies whiffed on six of those and missed on five of the eight sliders they swung at, looking nothing like the thunder squad of a night earlier. Javier finished with nine strikeouts.

The Astros also threw a combined no-hitter on June 25 against the New York Yankees, with Javier going seven innings in that one, followed by Hector Neris and Pressly, who closed out that one, too.


Coming in, the Astros hadn’t scored since Alex Bregman’s two-run homer in the fifth inning of a 5-2, Game 2 win and Aaron Nola kept that rolling through the first four innings.

Then came the fifth, when Chas McCormick led off the frame with an infield single, Jose Altuve lined a base hit and Jeremy Pena, after one attempt at a sacrifice bunt, added a base hit to load the bases.

Managing aggressively as he has all post-season, Rob Thomson had Jose Alvarado ready for Yordan Alvarez and went to his lefty to try and neutralize the bases-loaded, no-out jam. But the lightning-armed Alvarado can get wild and his first pitch, a 99.2 m.p.h. sinker, drilled Alvarez in the back to open the scoring.

Bregman followed by shooting a 100.7 m.p.h. sinker to right field for a two-run double, Kyle Tucker followed with a sacrifice fly and Yulieski Gurriel capped things off by ripping an RBI single.

Whether Nola would have fared better is impossible to know, but the damage for the Phillies is compounded by Alvarado having to throw 22 pitches, which may impact him Thursday.

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In contrast to the aggressive way the Phillies have gone to their bullpen in key leverage spots, Astros manager Dusty Baker has taken heat for sticking too long with Justin Verlander in Game 1 and Lance McCullers Jr. in Game 3.

In some ways, it’s an older-school approach, trusting your starter to go as long as possible. Verlander has certainly earned that rope and McCullers had seemed to stabilize before the Phillies added on against him. But while Baker acknowledged that “there is more urgency” in the post-season, he added that “at the same time there’s a difference between the urgency and panic. There’s a fine line between them.”

“Sometimes a lot of it may depend on how many games you’re going to play consecutively,” Baker told reporters before the game. “I just had this conversation. Do you spend everything for today or do you try to save something for the ensuing games tomorrow? And sometimes you may spend all your energy today trying to save something that really sometimes you don’t know if it can be saved or not. And then you don’t have anything for tomorrow. And you just got to kind of weigh where you are in the series. I mean, this is a big game for us (Wednesday). You got to weigh where you are in the series. Are you going to be home or are you going to be on the road. And the strength of your team. Is it the starting pitching or your bullpen. And how taxed are they.”

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Had things played out differently in Game 4, Justin Verlander may have been pitching to keep the Astros alive Thursday. Instead, he can give them an opportunity to claim the World Series in Game 6 on Saturday.

Either way, he said his team’s situation doesn’t impact the way he pitches.

“There’s definitely a different style of pitching in the playoffs where you just go out there and get as many outs as you can and not worry about going deep in the ball games,” said Verlander. “If that happens, great. If not, you just leave it all out there on the field. So the strategy is slightly different, whereas in the regular season, if something’s a little off or you have a high pitch count inning or something, you can try to massage the pitch count a little bit and make some pitches here or there that you think you can get some quick outs.

“In the playoffs, you can’t risk giving up a run or two with those types of pitches. So there is a bit of a different strategy, but I don’t think it changes based upon where we’re at inside the series.”

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