Cristian Javier’s second stingy October outing has the Houston Astros only one victory from winning another American League Championship Series.
Cristian restricted the Minnesota Twins to one hit over five perfect innings in his first postseason start since a joint World Series no-hitter last year, and the Astros slugged four home runs in a 9-1 victory at Target Stadium on Tuesday.
Houston has a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five division series and can advance to the ALCS for the seventh time in a row with a win on Wednesday.
Making use of the shadows cast by 3 p.m. Javier began by relying heavily on his slider—ordinarily tricky to square, positively problematic with the circumstances hindering batters’ vision—and generated 11 swings and misses.
Following Max Kepler’s first-inning double, the 26-year-old Javier negotiated the treacherous Twins lineup without allowing any extra damage. He knocked out nine batters while wriggling out of jams in the first, third, and fifth innings, the latter of which he highlighted with back-to-back strikes by Keller and Twins regular hitter Royce Lewis.
In the first inning, Twins fans began collectively ticking down the pitch clock in an effort to get into Javier’s head. The results were as expected for a player whose unflappability is as much an identifying attribute as his undetectable fastball and sly slider.
I took advantage of it, Cristian explained. At that point, I discontinued focusing on the clock because it was counting down and instead focused on the catcher.
His catcher, an experienced Martin Maldonado, grinned at the prospect of throwing Cristian off his game.
Maldonado believes the only way to frighten him is to punch him. I spent time with him away from the field, and that’s who he is. The exact same stuff you see on the mound.
Everyone watched a good imitation of what Javier presented in October. In his first playoff start, Game 3 of the ALCS, he tossed 513 shutout innings and allowed only one hit.
Eleven days later, in Game 4 of the World Series, he went six hitless innings, combining with three relievers on only the World Series’ second no-hitter.
Cristian has reduced batters to a.040 batting average (2-for-50) in three postseason starts. He joined Hall of Famers Whitey Ford and Christy Mathewson, all of whom threw entire games during their streaks, and Kenny Rogers as the fourth pitcher in history to have at least three straight scoreless starts of five or more innings.
Astros Manager on Javier
Astros manager Dusty Baker considered benching Cristian, especially after he walked with the bases loaded in the fifth, but decided to give him the benefit of the faith.
We had to decide whether to leave him in there or go to someone else. Baker stated that he came through. He can smell a victory—or when I’m going to kick him out.
The team’s success was never in doubt. In his first season with the Astros, first baseman Jose Abreu hit a three-run home ball off Twins starter Sonny Gray in the first inning then completed the scoring with a two-run homer in the ninth.
In the meantime, the Astros received home runs from Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez, who now have four in the series.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said it was a challenging day to bat. So their decision to leave early was critical. Whichever team did that would undoubtedly be in the driver’s seat because our current game hours and venue make it tough to see the ball.
It’s considerably more difficult with Javier on the mound. While he struggled in his first full season as a starter (his 4.56 ERA this year was more than two runs higher than last year), Javier is at his best in October. Particularly when his flip is “tremendous,” as he described it.
Minnesota, whose home score-happy attack helped it win the AL Central, scored its lone run in the sixth inning against reliever Hunter Brown. Bryan Abreu, Phil Maton, and Rafael Montero combined to strike out five Twins batters in the final three innings.