PHILADELPHIA — In baseball’s modern era, which stretches back to the creation of the American League in 1901, there have been only three no-hitters thrown in postseason play.
The first was the perfect game thrown by Don Larsen of the Yankees in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The second was a no-hitter thrown by Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 1 of a 2010 National League division series against the Cincinnati Reds.
The third came on Wednesday in Game 4 of the 2022 World Series, a combined effort started by the budding Houston Astros star Cristian Javier, in a 5-0 win over the Phillies.
There is a common thread among two of those games: Dusty Baker. In 2010, Baker was the manager of the Reds. A dozen years later, he was in the same dugout leading the Astros.
“Oh yeah, I was on the other end in this ballpark,” Baker, 73, said after Wednesday’s win at Citizens Bank Park that evened the World Series at two games apiece. “I mean, that’s what’s strange about life. And I remember being on the other end of that.”
If you stick around the sport long enough, you’re bound to see a unicorn more than once. Baker played for 19 seasons in the major leagues, then became a coach and then a manager, a position he has held with five franchises over 3,884 regular-season and 95 postseason games over 25 years. This season is Baker’s third with the Astros.
Going up against Halladay back in 2010, Baker said he remembered how tedious the game felt. In his long-awaited playoff debut, Halladay, who was eventually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, needed only 104 pitches to spin nine hitless innings and strike out eight against a Reds team that won the N.L. Central division.
“You’re almost helpless because the guy was dealing,” Baker said at the time.
At the plate, Halladay helped his own cause. His run-scoring single against Reds starter Edinson Volquez keyed a three-run second inning. Looking back on it now, the game felt like it was inching by to Baker, who managed the Reds for six years.
“It seemed like it was the second inning, and I looked up on the board and it’s the seventh inning already,” he said on Wednesday. “Then you’re trying not to be no-hit and then you’re trying to win the ballgame.”
Then Baker caught himself. “That’s pretty remarkable,” he continued. “I’ve been on both ends and here for two out of three.”
This time, though, it was a combined effort by his deep and talented Astros pitching staff. Using his deceptively wicked fastball, Javier tossed six stellar innings, walked two and struck out nine on 97 pitches.
“He was electric,” Baker said. “He threw the ball up, down, and that shows you that the best pitch in baseball is still the well-located fastball. He was calm, cool.”
Given how little he has pitched this postseason (Wednesday was Javier’s third game), Baker said Javier had a 100-pitch limit. And in an era in which being conservative with pitchers is the standard, the most he had thrown in a game this season was 115 on June 25, as part of another combined no-hitter.
“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,” said Baker, who is hoping to win his first title as a manager.
He added later, “You think about, especially a young player, his health and his career as much as you think about that game. And we had a real fresh bullpen, extremely fresh bullpen, and one of the best bullpens around.”
After Javier, Baker turned, in order, to the right-handed relievers Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly. And after Pressly got Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto to ground out for the final out, the Astros celebrated on the field. Baker smacked hands and hugged his players one by one, this time on the winning side of postseason history.
“It’s a privilege to have a manager who has that experience and have it again here with new players, it feels really good,” Abreu said afterward in Spanish. Told that Baker lost the previous time, Abreu added, “I didn’t know that. But thank God this time he was successful.”
As Baker walked back to the visitor’s clubhouse after addressing reporters in the news conference room, he was asked if he remembered what prevented Halladay’s start from being a postseason perfect game like Larsen’s.
Baker couldn’t. It has been a while, after all.
(Hint: It was a walk by Reds right fielder Jay Bruce in the fifth inning.)
Source: NY Times