PHILADELPHIA — In the modern era of baseball, which dates back to the creation of the American League in 1901, there have only been three hits thrown in the playoffs.
The first was the perfect game thrown by Dan 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 Wednesday in Game 4 of the 2022 World Series, a combined effort pitched by budding Houston Astros star Cristian Javier in a 5-0 win over the Phillies.
There is a common thread between two of these 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 of that stadium,” Baker, 73, said after Wednesday’s win at Citizens Bank Park tied the World Series at two games apiece. “I mean, that’s the weird thing about life. And I remember being on the other side.
If you stay in the sport long enough, you’re bound to see a unicorn more than once. Baker played 19 major league seasons, then became a coach and then a manager, a position he held with five franchises in 3,884 regular season games and 95 postseason games over 25 years. This season is Baker’s third with the Astros.
When facing Halladay in 2010, Baker said he remembered how tedious the game was. In his long-awaited playoff debut, Halladay, who was eventually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, needed just 104 pitches to turn nine hitless innings and strike out eight against a team from the Reds who won the NL Central division during the regular season but were later swept in the series.
“You’re almost helpless because the guy was busy,” Baker said at the time.
At home plate, Halladay helped his own cause. His single against Reds starter Edinson Volquez scored a second-inning three-run. Looking back now, the game looked to be moving on for Baker, who led the Reds for six years.
“It looked like it was round two, and I looked up the board and it’s already round seven,” he said on Wednesday. “Then you try not to be hitless, then you try to win the baseball game.”
Then Baker caught up. “It’s quite remarkable,” he continued. “I’ve been on both sides and here two out of three times.”
This time, however, it was a combined effort from his team of deep and talented Astros pitchers. Using his deceptively wicked fastball, Javier threw six stellar innings, walked two and struck out nine on 97 pitches.
“He was electric,” Baker said. “He threw the ball up and down, and that shows you that the best pitch in baseball is still the well-placed fastball. He was calm, cool.
Considering how few pitches he threw in the playoffs (Wednesday was Javier’s third game), Baker said Javier had a 100-pitch limit. And in a time when being conservative with pitchers is the norm, the most he’d thrown in a game this season was 115 on June 25, as part of another combined no-hitter.
“It’s always tough to knock a guy out, but you have to weigh the no-hitter and the story versus trying to win this game and get back to 2-2 in the World Series,” said Baker, who hopes win his first managerial title.
He later added: “You, especially a young player, think about his health and his career as much as you think about this game. And we had a real cool bullpen, an extremely cool bullpen and one of the best bullpen in the bullpen.
After Javier, Baker turned, in order, to right-handed relievers Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly. And after Pressly got Phillies receiver JT Realmuto down for the final, the Astros celebrated on the field. Baker clapped his hands and hugged his players one by one, this time on the winning side in playoff history.
“It’s a privilege to have a manager who has that experience and to have him here again with new players, it feels really good,” Abreu said afterwards in Spanish. When told that Baker had lost the previous time, Abreu added: “I didn’t know that. But thank God, this time he succeeded.
As Baker returned to the visitors’ club after speaking to reporters in the press conference room, he was asked if he remembered what kept Halladay’s departure from being a perfect playoff game like Larsen’s.
Baker couldn’t. It’s been a while, after all.
(Hint: It was a walk by Reds right fielder Jay Bruce in the fifth inning.)