Cristian Javier has the Yankees number yet again

Astros RHP Cristian Javier shut down the New York Yankees once again in Game 3 of the ALCS on Saturday, putting the Astros a game away from the World Series

The Houston Astros have such a deep pitching staff that Cristian Javier had a hard time cracking the rotation this postseason. To Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and the rest of the New York Yankees, though, Javier must seem like a true staff ace.

The Astros right-hander, tasked with taking the mound at Yankee Stadium on Saturday night with the Astros leading the American League Championship Series 2-0, spun another gem against the Yankees. He gave up only one hit, a double by Stanton in the fourth inning, over 5.1 shutout innings while striking out five as the Astros completed a 5-0 victory that leaves them one game away from reaching the franchise’s second consecutive World Series.

Javier was only starting Game 3 after a stray champagne bottle struck Lance McCullers Jr. in the elbow during the ALDS celebration. He had appeared in just one game over the last three weeks, pitching 1.1 innings in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Seattle Mariners. Manager Dusty Baker has an assortment of riches to use when he needs some outs, and Javier, despite a 2.54 ERA over 30 appearances this season, was often lost in the shuffle.

But he was called upon on Saturday, setting up a rematch against Yankees starter Gerrit Cole. Earlier this season, on a warm June afternoon in the Bronx, Javier and Cole first matched up. Javier went seven innings, holding the Yankees without a hit, striking out 13, and retiring 19 of the last 20 batters he faced, with only an error disrupting his dominance. At 115 pitches through seven, Baker pulled Javier from the game as Hector Neris and Ryan Pressly finished off the combined no-hitter.

He was nearly as dominant today. Javier walked three, but no Yankee advanced past second base. He struck out Stanton to end the first. Judge, the Yankees’ soon-to-be MVP, could only wave at a slider in the fourth. Javier ended the fifth by getting Oswaldo Cabrera swinging at a 93 mph fastball.

Yankees haven’t been able to hit Cristian Javier this season

Javier has started three games against the Yankees this season. He’s given up one run and three hits over 18 innings. The last pitcher to have three such starts against the Yankees in the same season was Joe Wood in 1911. The Yankees led the American League in runs scored this season; against Javier and the Astros, those powerful bats have turned into twigs.

Dating back to the regular season, Javier has given up just one run over his last 29 innings. Game 3 was his fifth straight scoreless start allowing two or fewer hits, the longest such streak in MLB history. He led all pitchers who threw at least 140 innings this season with a .169 opposing batting average, 15 points lower than teammate and Cy Young frontrunner Justin Verlander.

McCullers will take the mound in Game 4 on Sunday with the Astros on the cusp of a series sweep. The pitching has been nothing short of dominant. The Yankees are a collective 12-94 with 41 strikeouts through three games. Their .128 team batting average would be the lowest in a best-of-seven series in postseason history.

“I don’t know if dominant’s the word. I mean, all of them are close except tonight,” Baker said following Game 3, one win away from his third World Series appearance as a manager. “So I don’t think about being dominant. I just think about just scoring one more run than they score and winning the ball game.”

Javier is just another toy that he can play with on his pitching staff. On any other team, Javier would be a top-of-the-rotation starter, counted on to shut down opposing lineups as he did on Saturday. Even on the Astros, his performance stands out as remarkable. The Yankees haven’t figured him out yet this season.

They have one more chance to solve the rest of the Astros.

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