NEW YORK — There’s a certain type of confidence you have to maintain when you come into Yankee Stadium in October and deliver an awe-inspiring performance, leaving a sellout crowd of 47,569 in silence.
It is true what they say about the postseason, it’s where stars are born. One of those stars was born on the hill Saturday night for the No.1 seed team in the American League. Cristian Javier, a 25-year-old from Santo Domingo, stepped up to the rubber and did exactly what Astros manager Dusty Baker needed him to do as the Astros pitching staff silenced the Yankees offense with three hits in their 5-0 victory in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
Javier came into the series with a chunk of postseason success, yet none of his experience came from an October start. His career started in the shortened 60-game 2020 season, and one year later, the young pitching stud came out of the bullpen to pitch in the 2021 World Series against the Atlanta Braves.
However, Javier’s full 2022 season allowed the righty to grow into a reliable postseason starter. The 25-year-old placed a 2.54 ERA with an 11-9 record in 30 games (starting 25 games in 2022). And, somehow, all the regular season success came to fruition for the junior in the league. Javier proved that he could be a part of the strong pitching core that is the Astros rotation, which consists of Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers, and Luis García.
In his lights-out starting performance, Javier carried the Astros through a 5.1 outing, giving up one hit — a Giancarlo Stanton double — and striking out five batters, only allowing three walks to an anemic Yankees offense. Javier became the third starting pitcher in postseason history to prevent the Yankees from accumulating two or more hits over five innings.
What helped Javier breeze through the Yankees lineup was his reliance on his four-seam fastball and slider (71% four-seam fastball and 26% slider usage in Game 3). His pitch velocity reached 96.9%, which is a 0.3% increase compared to his yearly average. Astros catcher Christian Vázquez explained what it felt like to catch Javier as he relied on the two pitches to find success over the plate. “It was electric, the fastball, you know, the slider. He was throwing so good,” Vázquez stated in detail. “There was a lot of swing and miss. It was awesome. All the time I caught him, it’s fun to watch him and caught him.”
The Astros did not need to haul their pitching staff to work overtime, nor did they need to switch out their offense to play strategic baseball against an unrecognizable Yankees team. With a struggling Altuve — who was able to collect his first postseason hit with a double in the fifth inning — the Astros offense found comfort in knowing the bottom of the order was able to put up the necessary runs to solidify a win before the seventh inning stretch.
What got the Astros offense on the board was Chas McCormick hitting a game-leading blast in the second inning off Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. After Yankees’ center fielder Harrison Bader dropped a would-be third out in the inning, the error paid consequence and McCormick took full advantage by taking Cole’s 98-mph fastball deep, giving the Astros an early 2-0 lead.
“Every postseason win is awesome. We’re one win away to a World Series, and we can’t be more happy than to be here and play with this team,” Váquez chimed in as the Astros look to Sunday night for an ALCS sweep.
When Christian Vázquez was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Astros on August 1, 2022, many wondered how the Astros would utilize the veteran catcher from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, with Martín Maldonado being their full-time catcher. Dusty Baker penned the 32-year-old into the eight-spot in the lineup, and Vázquez was able to squander momentum for the Yankees when Bader was caught stealing second base in the fifth inning and added to the Astros lead with a two-run single to widen the lead to 5-0 in the sixth. With postseason experience and a World Series championship underneath his belt with the Boston Red Sox, it would be Vázquez’s 10th career RBI in his 28th career postseason game.
“He had an outstanding game,” Baker said on Vázquez’s performance in the batter’s box and behind the plate. “He called a good game, a great game. He threw out Bader at a key time in the game when they were trying to get something going, and then he got two RBIs for us. So it’s great to have two outstanding catchers. He had a very good game for us tonight.”
After their quick 2-0 series lead in Houston, the Astros came into Game 3 with an ease that’s graced during a regular season game. A struggling Yankees offense that struck out 41 times in the three ALCS games would help tap into the confidence the Astros possess and harden their belief that they can win the AL Pennant for the fourth time in six years.
“Our focus for tomorrow is just to come here and just play to win,” Javier said as the Astros rely on McCullers to take the mound for Game 4. “We’re going to come in and play as if we’re down 3-0, and if we win the game tomorrow, hopefully, we do, thanks to God, then we’ll talk about the World Series.”
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