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I WANTED TO SEE CRISTIAN JAVIER CONTINUE HIS NO-NO — AND I WASN'T ALONE
Baseball loses when a pitcher throwing a hitless game is yanked after six innings, and while the Astros still completed the first combined no-hitter in postseason history, the moment felt empty
In a decibel factory gone hush, the only sound was the whoosh of wood meeting air, if not the grilled sizzle of raw steak and Cheez Whiz. Cristian Javier threw another invisible fastball, and another Phillies batter flailed and missed miserably. On the Fox telecast, a graphic indicated a no-hitter was in progress. Announcer Joe Davis mentioned it several times, too, unconcerned about jinxing a killer at work.
And why wouldn’t he want to shout it to the heavens? America watches sports to be entertained. This was suspense, drama, a building crescendo, a young Houston pitcher torturing the Philadelphia crushers who’d bashed five home runs a combined 1,950 feet one night earlier. After six innings, Javier was dominating with nine strikeouts — five straight at one point — on 97 pitches. The opponents were struggling just to make weak contact. The Astros, in command with a 5-0 lead, were about to even the World Series at 2-2. Javier isn’t scheduled to start again.
So wasn’t this a splendid opportunity to place baseball, the beleaguered national past-its-time, in the forefront of the sporting consciousness? Spike those stagnant ratings, at long last. Make America flip to the ballgame for a change, instead of turning it off. Only twice in postseason history — Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in the same South Philly stadium during a National League divisional series — had a pitcher not allowed a hit over nine innings. Would this be the third time? At least let the kid try, right? Isn’t he known as “El Reptil” because he’s a cold-blooded snake? Hear him hiss. Watch him keep biting Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and all the rest.
“Clearly unhittable,” said closer Ryan Pressly, among many awestruck teammates Wednesday night.
“The best fastball right now in baseball,” said catcher Christian Vazquez, who only had to transmit signals and watch hitters whiff.
Sorry, dreamers. This is 2022, when analytics and overprotection trump theatrics without a second thought. The Astros have a championship to seize, and that includes 73-year-old Dusty Baker, who is trying to win his first World Series in 25 years as a major-league manager. This was an interval when you actually wished the gods of sport were banging a drum by their dugout, alerting Baker that millions of people would grab remote-control devices if he didn’t let Javier flirt with history. Health is of the essence, generally, but this rascal is healthier than a bull and at the height of his powers. In each of his last six starts, he has allowed no more than two hits and compiled at least five scoreless innings. In his previous postseason start, against the Yankees, he allowed one hit in 5 1/3 innings.
LET HIM CONTINUE, PLEASE!
LIVE A LITTLE, WOULD YOU?
GIVE BASEBALL AN OXYGEN HIT!
Out of the commercial break, alas, Baker was seen wrapping Javier in a bearhug. It was his way of saying, “No history for you, dude,” and also his way of telling the audience, “My team takes precedence over your night on the couch.” In my mind, this was a time to have a serious conversation in the TV booth. Davis should have questioned Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz about the decision and whether Baker should have stuck with Javier until he allowed a hit … or shocked the world. Fox didn’t bother addressing it, brainwashed by baseball groupthink, assuming everyone at home understood that arm preservation was the only option — when it was not.
It was then, in that empty moment, when I realized baseball really is dead as we’ve known it in this land. The concept of preserving Javier for a possible Game 7 relief appearance Sunday, in case Lance McCullers Jr. coughs up more longballs, was more urgent than giving the sport a much-needed gift — and Javier a once-in-a-lifetime chance to enter an all-time pantheon at 25. Wasn’t Sunday still four nights away, with an off day on Friday? The right-hander had yet to throw 100 pitches, and the way he was slinging, he might not have needed many more to complete the no-no. I am preaching to a choir that, sadly, includes no one in a baseball front office. The spreadsheet culture that has ruined the sport was invading any chance to embrace a snapshot in time. Even Baker, an OG who likes to walk on the wild side, has been infected by Ivy League geekery. Javier departed, followed by Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Pressly.
Yes, the Astros went on to record the first combined postseason no-hitter. But there was no rush to the mound after the final out, no catcher jumping into the pitcher’s arms, no dogpile in the infield. There were high-fives, smiles, a few hugs. Baker, seen stifling a yawn minutes earlier, left the dugout in slow motion to congratulate his players. A Fox analyst tried to sell the collective success as “something we’ll never forget,” but the TV viewership had long fled another one-sided game. No one who grew up with the sport, back when it truly mattered, was treating this as anything but a bastardized milestone. A no-hitter doesn’t mean much when four pitchers are required. It doesn’t merit a BREAKING NEWS alert. It’s just something that happened in another ballgame.
“It’s always tough to take a guy out, but you have to weigh the no-hitter and history versus trying to win this game and get back to 2-2 in the World Series,” Baker said. “It's baseball in 2022. A young player, you think about his health and his career as much as you think about that game.’’
He made the call even though he views Javier as superhuman. “When I first met him, he told me he had a disappearing fastball and I’m like, ‘There is no such thing,’ ’’ Baker said. “But I guess so.”
The death of the singular no-hitter is only one symptom of baseball’s existential demise. Home runs carry less significance, killed by the Steroids Era and the juiced-ball barrage of recent seasons, and the Great American No-Hitter also is past tense, a victim of bullpen specialization. Three of the season’s four no-nos have been combined efforts, with the Angels’ Reid Detmers pitching the only solo gem. What’s crazy is, Javier was in the same no-hit position on June 25 at Yankee Stadium, where he was removed after seven innings and 115 pitches. The Astros completed the team no-no with Pressly and Hector Neris. All will be recognized by the Hall of Fame.
Let’s hope America remembers any of their names. Wednesday could have been a special night in this country and Javier’s native Dominican Republic. “It’s funny,” he said, “my parents told me today I was going to throw a no-hitter, and thanks to God, I was able to accomplish that.” His parents should have told Dusty, too.
His father, who arrived in the U.S. on Tuesday, was inside Citizens Bank Park to watch him pitch for the first time. Seven years have passed since he signed for $10,000 and left home. Imagine the stories that would have been written had he pitched a nine-inning no-no. Only a fool would have put it past him. “I just came out holding onto God, trying to be positive, trying to attack the strike zone,” he said. “Thanks to God, I was able to accomplish that.”
What his parents didn’t tell him: You’re going to pitch a six-inning no-hitter and watch three other guys finish what you started. And if God spoke back to Cristian Javier, the message might have been this: What a shame a badass named “El Reptil” was thwarted by geeks and analytics.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.