Houston Astros reliever Cristian Javier entered Game 4 of the World Series on an impressive postseason streak. Javier was a virtual strike-throwing machine with 15 strikeouts across nine scoreless innings.
However, like all machines, a malfunction is lurking around the corner. It just so happened Javier turned in a lackluster performance at the worst time.
In the seventh inning, the Astros clung to a one-run lead. It was up to Javier to face Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson and pinch hitter Jorge Soler. Given his postseason success, it seemed like a perfunctory situation.
Swanson had other plans. He fought off three consecutive sliders and deposited a 95.1 mph fastball over the right-field wall.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t think homer was on my mind,” Swanson said. “I was just trying to get on base and make something happen. Thankfully, it was a homer.”
The fastball was Javier’s first mistake. His second mishap proved to be more devastating.
Javier served up an 80.5 mph slider to Soler. Soler drilled the slider into the left-field bullpen over Yordan Álvarez’s outstretched glove. It was the Braves’ second time hitting consecutive home runs this postseason.
The two pitches proved to be the difference. Now, the Astros find themselves on the verge of elimination heading into Game 5.
“We really had them on the ropes in the first inning, and we came out of there with one,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Our bullpen did great. Javier’s been outstanding, found too much of the plate on a two-strike count to Swanson, and then he hung a breaking ball on the inside to Soler. That was the difference in the ballgame.”
Baker added he felt Álvarez had a chance to make a fantastic play. Alvarez is normally a designated hitter in the Astros lineup. He shifted to left field in a National League ballpark without the luxury of a DH.
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While he’s improved as an outfielder, he still has his moments in the field. He is also coming off double knee surgery that sidelined him last season.
One moment came in the sixth inning. Álvarez missed the cutoff man as the Braves collected their first run on Austin Riley’s RBI single. It allowed Freddie Freeman to move into scoring position at third. The Astros thwarted the threat but couldn’t avoid the Braves’ seventh-inning rally.
“They’ve been playing us tough,” Baker said. “They’ve been playing us real tough. We’ve got to win tomorrow. We’ve had our backs to the wall before. Our guys know what to do. There’s not a whole lot to be said. We know what we have to do. We have to win tomorrow.”
The Astros will need more production from their offensive stars. The lineup has failed to capitalize on opportunities. In Game 4, the Astros left 11 runners on base and were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Astros third baseman Alex Bregman is also struggling. He is 1-for-14 with five strikeouts this series. Baker mentioned that he is considering a potential lineup change with a must-win Game 5 on the horizon.
“Yeah, I thought about it. I’ll let you know tomorrow when I make the lineup out,” Baker said.
The Astros have been in this position before. Jose Altuve mentioned that the mindset doesn’t change facing an elimination game. The plan is to focus on what is in front of them.
“Just basically focus on one game at a time,” Altuve said. “That’s it. That’s pretty much what we talk about. If we win tomorrow, then try to win Game 6 and see what happens. But we’ve got to focus on one game, and that game is tomorrow.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cristian Javier falters in seventh inning as Braves take 3-1 lead