World Series, Game 4 Review
The 2022 World Series is cuckoo. It’s a ride on the spinning Tilt-A-Whirl. The centrifugal and gravitational forces are taking the Astros and Phillies up and down and all around.
Through four games this dizzying best-of-seven ride is tied at 2-2, and that’s the calm part. The AL and NL champs split the first two games in Houston. The delegations headed east to split the first two games in Philadelphia to set up a crucial Game 5 on Thursday night at The Bank.
Each team has scored 15 runs, so we’re tied on the overall Series scoreboard. But let’s not talk about parity. These duelers have taken turns beating on each other, with one of the teams pounding their way to a lead of at least 5-0 in every game.
As my friend Joe Sheehan notes, it’s been a big-inning Series so far: of the 30 runs scored through four games, 27 have been plated during innings that produced two runs or more. And there have been only three single-run innings in four games. There have been 72 innings played so far, and the teams have scored in just 13 of them.
We have witnessed baseball played to the extremes. The Phillies bombarded the Astros with five home runs in a 7-0 stomping in Game 3 on Tuesday, making the ground shake in South Philadelphia.
The Astros responded the next night in a stunning turnabout: a combined no-hitter to defuse the powerful Phillies 5-0. Cristian Javier gave Houston a sensational six-inning start, followed by impenetrable relief work from Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly.
It was the second no-hitter in World Series history. And the first in 66 years – shout out to the late Don Larsen, who famously pitched a perfect game for the Yankees in 1956. And Javier and the bullpen crew teamed up for the first combined no-no in the Fall Classic … which is really something because the first World Series was played in 1903. And there have been 688 games from then until now.
“Man, it’s a strange Series,” Astros manager Dusty Baker told The Athletic. “I mean, they hit five home runs yesterday, and then no hits today. I mean, this is a daily game — and it’s filled with daily emotions.”
Here are five other related oddities:
A) with Javier starting, the Astros silenced the Yankees with a combined three-man no-hitter on June 25 in New York. The score was 3-0.
B) The Phillies were were zapped by the Mets in a five-pitcher combined no-hitter early this season, back on April 29 in New York. The score of that game was also 3-0.
C) There have been three no-hitters in MLB postseason history. Two of the three went down at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The first was a perfect game by the late Roy Halladay in a 1-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS. And the second happened Thursday night in World Series Game 4. The Bank ballpark opened in 2004 and has never been the site of a regular-season no-hitter. And the Phillies have played 1,492 regular-season home games there.
D) Dusty Baker managed in two of the only three postseason no-hitters in MLB history. In addition to the Javier-led win in Game 4, Baker was on the other end of no-no legend as manager of the Reds when Halladay presented his perfectly pitched game in the 2010 NLDS.
“Oh, yeah, I was on the other end in this ballpark,” Baker said in his postgame media session Wednesday. “I mean, that’s what’s strange about life. And I remember being on the other end of that. It was the 7th inning and it seemed like it was the 2nd inning, and I looked up on the board and it’s the 7th inning already. Then you’re trying not to be no-hit and then you’re trying to win the ball game … and, yeah, that’s pretty remarkable. I’ve been on both ends and here for two out of three.”
NOTES ON MY SCORECARD:
1. I’ve seen the predictable and boring fussing over Baker’s decision to remove Javier after six innings. I agree that solo no-hitters are more entertaining and thrilling than combination no-hitters, but postseason no-hitters are extremely rare and should be appreciated. The idea that Baker owed it to the game of baseball and all sports fans by giving Javier a chance to complete the no-hitter … Well, that’s just ridiculously naive.
2. It’s 2022. You may have noticed that baseball has changed in many ways over the years and decades. And one of the most visible and unappealing changes is the cautious, safe handling of starting pitchers. Relative to the old-timey baseball days, there are very few complete games. In these modern times, a six-inning start by a hurler is viewed as a heroic effort on behalf of the team.
In 1956, the year of Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series, the pitchers on (only) 16 MLB teams combined for 758 complete games.
In 2010, the year of Halladay’s el perfecto, the pitchers on 30 MLB teams combined for 165 complete games.
And in 2022? Only 36 complete games by the 30 teams.
3. Given the dramatic evolution of starting pitching, and the increasing dependence on bullpen strength, why would anyone expect Baker to push it with Javier? The 25-year-old righthander has never pitched a complete game in the majors. He’s never gone more than seven innings in a start. In his six no-hit innings against the Phillies, Javier threw 97 pitches. He exceeded 100 pitches in only two starts this season and never topped 115 pitches in an assignment. When a pitcher has never thrown a complete game and has operated on relatively low pitch counts during his career, Game 4 in a must-win game for the Astros isn’t the place to go on an adventure.
4. There’s also the matter of Javier’s recent workload. He made his final regular-season start on Oct. 1, made his first appearance in the 2022 postseason 10 days later with 1.1 innings of relief, made his first postseason start (vs. the Yankees) 10 days later, then made his second postseason start (vs. the Phils) another 10 days later. In other words: Javier hasn’t done a lot of pitching lately, he’d been lightly used, and he wasn’t wired to go a full nine innings. And what if the Astros need him again? Depending how the remainder of this World Series unfolds, Javier may be called into service in Game 7 Sunday. Not as a starter on three days rest – but as a reliever if there’s a need for him. And his style of pitching – based on a wicked four-seam fastball that can move like a frisbee – is absolutely detrimental to the Phillies. After Wednesday’s game, Baker said he believes Javier would be good to go for two or three innings in a Game 7 scenario. Why would any sane manager foreclose on that possibility – with the World Series on the line – to extend Javier deeper than he’s ever been in a start to chase a no-hitter? The Astros GOT THE NO-HITTER and did so by keeping Javier viable and in play for a potential relief gig in Game 7. Smart.
5. This was about the team’s success … and Houston needing to win Game 4 to avoid going down 3 games to 1 to the Phillies. Baker had a stocked bullpen, ready to power up. If Javier stayed in there, and began to tire, we know that the Phillies are capable of striking quickly. Don’t forget, they trailed 5-0 in Game 1 but got to Justin Verlander and came back to win 6-5. As great as Javier was in Game 4, Houston has so many formidable relievers it’s never a bad or wrong idea to go to the bullpen. Baker screwed up Game 1 and Game 3 by waiting too long to call on his bullpen.
6. During the regular season and postseason, there have been 12 no-hitters in 2022. And 11 of the 12 were turned in by multiple pitchers in a combined effort. That’s baseball today, sorry. The only individual no-hitter came from the Angels’ Reid Detmers, who went nine hitless innings to defeat Tampa Bay on May 10. Detmers threw 108 pitches to lock down the no-hitter. In his next two starts he averaged 67 pitches and was pelted for eight earned runs in 9.2 innings.
7. If Baker should be criticized for anything regarding Javier, it’s this: waiting until Game 4 to start him. Javier is among the most impressive starters in the big leagues. This season among MLB starters who worked at least 130 innings, he ranked 14th in ERA (2.68), had the lowest batting average against (.171) allowed a .565 OPS, and was third with a 32.6 percent strikeout rate. If we combine his last four regular–season starts with his two postseason starts, Javier hasn’t allowed a run – and only seven hits – in 34.1 innings. Opponents have batted .067 and struck out 37 percent of the time in those six starts by Javier.
8. In eradicating the Phillies, Javier threw 70 four-seam fastballs in Game 4, or 72% of his pitches. No surprise there; since the beginning of September, and including the postseason, opponents have a .078 batting average against his four seamer. And hitters have a .164 batting average against that pitch since the All-Star break. Astros catcher Martin Maldano refers to Javier’s four-seam fastball as “the invisi-ball.” And the other Houston catcher, Christian Vasquez, said the four-seam on display in Game 4 was “the best fastball I’ve ever seen.”
9. Phillies manager Rob Thompson made the right move in lifting starter Aaron Nola in the fifth inning with the bases loaded and no outs. Thomson summoned the nasty lefty reliever Jose Alvarado, who wasn’t sharp. Alvarado allowed all three inherited runners to score, and the Astros broke the Phillies. Thomson made a similar move in Game 1, replacing Nola with Alvarado in the fifth, with the score tied 5-5. Alvarado did an excellent job in that spot, and played a key role in Philly’s 6-5 win. But he didn’t have his best stuff going in Game 4. Thomson’s call for Alvarado didn’t work, but it was still the right move to make. In his last three postseason starts Nola has been hammered for 14 earned runs in 13 innings (9.69 ERA), allowing a .345 batting average and .998 OPS.
10. There were no home runs in this game! This was a change. The old-schoolers must have loved the eight singles and two doubles and all of that manufacturing by the Astros. Up in the FOX booth, John Smoltz was demanding that Jeremy Pena give up an out in the fifth by bunting with runners and second base and no outs. Pena rifled a single instead to load the bases. Two batters later, with the Astros leading 1-0 with no outs and the bases still jammed, Smoltz said something about how it would be OK for Alex Bregman to ground into a double play – just to get a second run home. Bregman had another plan in mind and lined a two-run double into right field to give the Astros a 3-0 lead. And because Bregman declined the suggestion to hit into the double play, he was in position to score Houston’s fifth run of the inning. Smoltz knows more about baseball than any living person and must become a manager. Only he can save major-league baseball from these nerds and all their fancy-pants metrics and hipster cred.
11. Good stuff from The Athletic. Matt Gelb, who does a fantastic job of covering the Phillies, surveyed the clubhouse after the no-hitter to see how the Broad Street Boys were handling it. Here are the reactions, verbatim:
What’s it like being on the wrong side of history?
“I really don’t give a sh-t,” Kyle Schwarber said. “We’ll move on to tomorrow. It’s cool. We’ll be in the history books, I guess.”
“It’s not good,” Bryce Harper said. “Not good.”
“Nobody cares,” third baseman Alec Bohm said. “So what? What are you going to do? Cry about it? We move on. I don’t think anybody in here cares at all.”
“It’s just a loss,” Schwarber said. “Now it’s a race to two (more wins). See what happens.”
12. Big One tonight in Game 5. The winner will carry a 3-2 series lead back to Houston for Game 6 (Saturday) and a potential Game 7 on Sunday. For now, it’s all about Game 5. Justin Verlander will start against the Phillies, who counter with Noah Syndergaard. Thomson is staying with his plan to save Zack Wheeler for Game 6 Saturday in Houston – even though Wheeler could have started Game 5 on normal rest. But Wheeler has been dealing with a cranky elbow, and he’s battling fatigue, and Thomson sincerely believes the extra rest will help. So, it’s Syndergaard – who doesn’t have the velocity that made him so fearsome with the Mets in his younger days, before his elbow surgeries.
Verlander is a huge story. This could be the most important start of Verlander’s career. He’ll be winning the AL Cy Young award this season (his third), and led MLB starters with a 1.75 ERA, and has 244 career wins in the regular season. When pitching in a League Division Series (13 starts) during his career, Verlander is 8-1 with a 3.08 ERA. In the League Championship Series (12 starts), Verlander is 7-4 with a 3.01 ERA.
Verlander already has established the MLB postseason record for the most strikeouts (224) and is tied for the second-most wins (15.) He has the fourth-most postseason innings (202), and has made the fourth-most postseason starts (32).
All of that is outstanding … except … there is a extra-large blank spot on the postseason resume. JV has a World Series Problem: He has fallen off baseball’s most prestigious platform too many times, getting caned for a 6.07 ERA in eight World Series starts. He’s 0-6 – and his teams are 1-7 when he’s handed the ball for a World Series start. Going into tonight, Verlander’s teams have lost four straight World Series games started by him. And in the seven games that Verlander’s teams (Tigers, Astros) have lost in the World series, the list of opposing-team starters includes Anthony Reyes, Jeff Weaver and Rich Hill. And, to complete the list: Barry Zito, Stephen Strasburg (twice) and Aaron Nola. But even though the Astros gave Verlander a 5-0 lead against Nola in Game 1, he couldn’t hold it and cracked.
No excuses allowed in Game 5. Other than Philly’s home ballpark, everything is aligned for Verlander. This will be a bullpen game for the Phils, with Syndergaard handing the baton to a reliever after two or three innings. Manager Thomson will deploy his relievers early and often in his mission to keep the game close … and you just know that the Phillies are counting on Verlander to go to pieces again. Verlander has the chance to break the narrative in Game 5, which looms as the tipping point in this World Series.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.