In the first inning of Cristian Javier’s first major-league start with the Houston Astros, in July 2020, he struck out all three Los Angeles Dodgers batters he faced: Max Muncy, who’d hit 35 home runs the year before, former MVP Mookie Betts, and reigning MVP Cody Bellinger. He left that game, played in front of thousands of cardboard fans due to COVID-19 restrictions, after 5⅔ innings, having allowed one run on two hits and struck out eight.1
One thing Javier didn’t do in his first start was retaliate for combative Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly2 throwing at the heads of his teammates Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa the night before. Kelly’s purpose pitches, in the first regular-season game between the two teams since the Astros sign-stealing scandal broke in November 2019, were understood to be payback for the “garbage-can-whacking cheaters who stole [the 2017] World Series,” as the Los Angeles Times put it.3
The Dominican-born right-hander’s ability to execute without being swayed by emotion quickly earned him the nickname El Reptil (The Reptile) from teammates. That talent was on display two seasons later as Javier and two relievers no-hit the New York Yankees in front of a live crowd at Yankee Stadium on June 25, 2022.
The Astros’ late June visit to New York brought together two teams leading their divisions by wide margins. Heading into the series, the Yankees were 51-18, with a 12-game lead in the American League East. The Astros, 43-25, held a 10-game lead over pursuers in the AL West.
COVID-19 restrictions had limited crowds to under 11,000 for the Astros’ Bronx visit in 2021, so this was the first in which Houston was hearing the wrath of a ballpark filled with Yankees fans who felt their team been cheated out of playing in the 2017 and 2019 World Series after postseason losses to the Astros. The Yankees won the series opener, coming back from a three-run deficit on Aaron Judge’s walk-off single. Houston triumphed the next night, ending the Yankees’ 15-game home winning streak behind the pitching of Justin Verlander and a three-run bomb from Kyle Tucker.
The third game of the series featured two pitchers at opposite ends of the major-league pay scale. Javier, earning less than $50,000 over the league minimum, was pitted against Gerrit Cole, an Astro in 2018 and 2019 but now in the third year of a nine-year, $324 million contract, the largest ever for a pitcher.4 Javier carried a 4-3 record into the game, with a 3.07 ERA, and 68 strikeouts in 55⅔ innings pitched.5 Cole was 6-1, with a 3.14 ERA. In his last start, on the road against the Tampa Bay Rays, the 31-year-old right-hander had not allowed a hit until the eighth inning of a 12-strikeout, one-hit masterpiece.
The Saturday afternoon contest got underway with temperatures near 90 and before a crowd of 45,076. Each pitcher issued a harmless walk in the first, and retired the side by fanning the cleanup hitter. After Cole walked the leadoff batter in the second inning, he retired the next nine in order. Javier one-upped Cole, retiring the Yankees in order in the second through fourth innings, striking out Judge swinging to end the third and Giancarlo Stanton swinging to end the fourth.
Jake Meyers, in his second game back with Houston after injuring his shoulder in Game Four of the 2021 ALDS,6 collected the first hit off Cole with two outs in the fifth. He moved into scoring position when Martín Maldonado singled to center but was left there when Jose Altuve lined out to deep center.
Over the next two innings, Javier ran his string of consecutive batters retired to 16, striking out Judge swinging once again to end the sixth. At that point, an Astros announcer on Fox Sports Net’s TV broadcast declared that Javier was pitching “the finest game of his career on the big stage at Yankee Stadium.”7
With two out in the seventh, Astros rookie J.J. Matijevic drove a 100-mph Cole fastball, his 101st pitch of the day, into the right-field second deck to break the scoreless tie. It was the second major-league hit for Matijevic, who was 1-for-13 (.077) coming into the at-bat.8
Now with a lead, Javier struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh, unaffected by a Bregman throwing error that gave the Yankees a baserunner with one out. When Gleyber Torres went down swinging on a full-count breaking ball above the strike zone to end the inning, Javier pumped his fists, let out a yell, made the sign of the cross, after which “El Reptil’s face turned back to stone.”9 Javier had a career-high 13 strikeouts and he hadn’t allowed a hit.
Yankee manager Aaron Boone took Cole out for the eighth and brought in reliever Michael King. With one out, Altuve jumped on an inside fastball for a home run just inside the left-field foul pole. It was his 14th home run of the season and fifth in 30 regular-season games at Yankee Stadium. Houston now led 2-0.
Up to a career-high 115 pitches, Javier was replaced by fellow Dominican Héctor Neris for the bottom of the eighth.10 Since signing with Houston in the offseason, Neris, the one-time closer of an often-dreadful Philadelphia Phillies bullpen,11 had been serving as a set-up man for manager Dusty Baker. He’d struggled of late, with an ERA ballooning from 2.01 to 3.86 since the end of May, but his 11-pitch scoreless inning two days earlier had boosted Baker’s confidence.
Yankee leadoff batter Aaron Hicks drew a walk to start the eighth. Matt Carpenter, pinch-hitting for catcher Jose Trevino, flied out to deep left-center for the first out. A walk to DJ LeMahieu, batting for former Astro Marwin Gonzalez, gave New York runners at first and second. Home-plate umpire Alex Tosi’s no-call on a 2-and-2 sinker appeared to be strike three, and his ball-four call on another that appeared to catch the bottom outside corner left Neris holding his head in disbelief.
Sensing Neris was in distress, Maldonado walked out to the mound and motioned for pitching coach Josh Miller to join them. The trio discussed how to attack the next two hitters and went back to work.
Joey Gallo skied Neris’s next pitch to the warning track in right field, with Hicks moving to third. Judge jumped on a second-pitch sinker, hitting a 112.9 mph bullet at shortstop Aledmys Díaz that carried a .720 expected batting average (xBA). Díaz couldn’t come up with it cleanly but knocked it down and had enough time for an inning-ending force at second. “I think [the visit from Martin and coach Miller] was the key in the moment,” Neris acknowledged. “They gave me the chance to breathe and get my mind positive to get the guy out.”12
A ninth-inning walk by Tucker, double by Díaz and bloop single by Yuli Gurriel (pinch-hitting for Matijevic) gave Houston a 3-0 lead. In came closer Ryan Pressly to preserve the win and the no-hitter. Pressly had blown his third save in 17 chances two days earlier, but Baker’s faith in him was unshaken: “He’s my closer. Just because he had one bad day, that doesn’t make you not my closer.”13
Anthony Rizzo swung and missed at a 2-and-2 slider for the first out of the ninth. Josh Donaldson, 4-for-10 lifetime against Pressly, failed to check his swing on another for the second out. Stanton, 3-for-6 versus Pressly in his career, rolled over on a curveball, sending a two-hopper to third baseman Bregman for the final out.
After 150 pitches, delivered by three pitchers, the Astros had the third combined no-hitter in franchise history and the first no-hitter in new Yankee Stadium’s 14 seasons. “It’s exciting,” Pressly said.14 “To do it in New York, it’s the best feeling in the world.”15
Using almost exclusively four-seam fastballs and late-breaking sliders, Javier induced 20 swings and misses. Eight of the nine balls the Yankees did put in play garnered a minuscule xBA of .130 or lower.16 “Masterful” was how Baker described Javier’s performance.17 “He was the best version of himself,” said pitching coach Miller. “In the bullpen before the game, pitches were doing what I wanted them to do,” Javier shared through a translator. “I’m really happy, really proud right now for this moment that God has given me.”18
In his next start, Javier allowed one hit over seven innings and set a personal record with 14 strikeouts in a victory over the Los Angeles Angels.19 Later in that series, Neris and Pressly contributed to a 20-strikeout performance, tying the major-league record for the most strikeouts in a nine-inning game and establishing a new team record.20
Javier and a trio of Astros relievers found no-hit magic once again in 2022, on the biggest stage, under the brightest lights: in Game Four of the World Series, after having once again defeated the Yankees in the playoffs. As was true at Yankee Stadium four months earlier, the Astros’ no-hitter over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park ended with a weak groundout to Bregman at third, on a breaking ball from Pressly.21
This article was fact-checked by Kevin Larkin and copy edited by Len Levin.
In addition to the Sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted baseballsavant.mlb.com, as well as Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for pertinent material and box scores.
1 Played at Houston’s Minute Maid Park, the Dodgers won the game in 13 innings, on the first day that Major League Baseball implemented a rule stipulating that extra innings begin with a courtesy runner on second base.
2 In June 2018 Kelly, then with the Boston Red Sox, drilled the Yankees’ Tyler Austin with a 98-mph fastball in the ribs after Austin had spiked a Red Sox infielder with an aggressive slide earlier in the game. Kelly invited Austin to charge the mound, prompting a brawl that brought Kelly acclaim across Red Sox nation and spawned the whimsical “Joe Kelly Fight Club.” Clint Pasillas, “Joe Kelly Fight Club 2018,” Joseph Kelly Jr. website, https://www.josephkellyjr.com/2020/07/30/joe-kelly-fight-club-2018/, accessed November 5, 2022.
3 Dylan Hernandez, “Sweep Leaves Dodgers with Oh-So-Satisfying Feeling,” Los Angeles Times, July 30, 2020.
4 The disparity in compensation between Javier and Cole is also evident in their signing bonuses upon turning professional. Javier received a $10,000 bonus when he signed with Houston as an amateur free agent in 2015 while Cole collected an $8 million bonus for his selection by the Pittsburgh Pirates as the top pick in the 2011 June amateur draft.
5 Javier had won his last outing, over the Chicago White Sox, allowing only two hits over five innings, but surrendering a season-high four walks.
6 Meyers came up with a torn labrum in his left shoulder after crashing into the center-field wall at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field, attempting to make a leaping catch of a home run hit by the White Sox’ Gavin Sheets. Associated Press, “Houston Astros CF Jake Meyers Has Shoulder Surgery; Not Expected to See Game Action Before Opening Day,” November 10, 2021, ESPN website, https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/32601238/houston-astros-cf-jake-meyers-shoulder-surgery-not-expected-see-game-action-opening-day, accessed November 4, 2022.
8 Matijevic’s previous hit was also a home run, hit the previous Sundayoff a fastball from Michael Kopech of the Chicago White Sox. Associated Press, “Matijevic Homers for 1st MLB Hit, Astros Beat White Sox 4-3,” Longview (Texas) News-Journal, June 20, 2022: C7.
9 Chandler Rome, “‘He Was Masterful,’” Houston Chronicle, June 26, 2022: C2.
10 Neris was raised in the Dominican Republic municipality of Villa Altigracia, 25 miles northwest of Santo Domingo, where Javier was from.
11 The 2020 Philadelphia Phillies’ bullpen ERA of 7.06 was the second worst in the modern era, topped only by 8.15 ERA posted by the 1930 Phillies bullpen. Neris tied for the 2020 Phillies team lead in saves with five, but blew three others.
12 Chandler Rome, “The Finishing Touches,” Houston Chronicle, June 26, 2022: C2.
13 “The Finishing Touches.”
14 “The Finishing Touches.”
15 Benjamin Hoffman, “Three Astros Pitchers Combine to No-Hit the Yankees,” New York Times, June 26, 2022: A33.
16 The Yankees xBA for the game was .082, the third lowest for any of the 20 major-league no-hitters thrown between 2019 and 2022. Only the Toronto Blue Jays in Justin Verlander’s September 1, 2019, no-hitter and the Philadelphia Phillies in the Astros combined no-hitter in Game Four of the 2022 World Series compiled lower values (.060 and .081, respectively). Based on author’s compilation of data from baseballsavant.mlb.com.
17 Rome, “‘He was masterful.’”
18 Hoffman, “Three Astros Pitchers Combine to No-Hit the Yankees.”
19 Only Spencer Strider of the Atlanta Braves fanned more batters in one game during the 2022 season (16).
20 Prince J. Grimes, “Awful Angels Lineup Hit a New Low as Astros Tallied a Record 20 Strikeouts,” USA Today, July 4, 2022, https://ftw.usatoday.com/2022/07/awful-angels-lineup-hit-a-new-low-as-astros-tallied-a-record-tying-20-strikeouts.
21 J.T. Realmuto, the Phillies batter who made the last out in Game Four on a Pressly curveball, also made the last out in the New York Mets combined no-hitter against Philadelphia at Citi Field on April 29, 2022.