Culture / Sporting Life

Cristian Javier Is Still the Most Important Astro — For All the ‘Big Boy’ Chas McCormick Talk, a Third Ace Remains the Real Difference Maker

If Javier Is Right, the Astros Will Be More Than All Right In October Again

BY // 09.09.23

Hunter Brown looks and sounds as frustrated as a celebrity stuck in the mud at Burning Man. Jose Urquidy appears a little lost, as unsure of himself as an influencer who has to pay for their own hotel room. But the Houston Astros can still be October all right with Cristian Javier.

Javier tilted a World Series the Astros way with a rising fastball and relentless guts in the damp Philadelphia air last October. And this no-hit brilliance can be reconjured up. This is why the Astros, a mere .500 team at their beautiful downtown home this season, Chas McCormick furor and all, can still reach for another title.

Because if Javier is Cristian Javier again, a lot of doubts, blaring concerns and raging debates will be suddenly quieted. Which makes Javier’s start against the San Diego Padres on Saturday night one of the low key bigger nights of Houston’s season. Javier is coming off his best start in more than a month (eight strikeouts and three runs allowed in six innings against the Yankees). If he can stack up another Cristian Javier start on top of that, things will start to look a lot different for this Astros’ pitching staff.

Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez and a righted Cristian Javier, plus this offense, could be enough. Again. It would certainly give Dusty Baker’s team a real fighting chance in the playoffs.

“It’s too late to audition,” Baker says after Friday night’s 11-2 loss to the San Diego Padres where Brown (six runs allowed, just 13 outs secured) and Urquidy (five runs allowed in four innings of relief) are equally shaky. “We’re just trying to come up with who’s throwing the best. Hunter’s struggled the last four or five starts so that’s why I changed catchers tonight.

“And it didn’t help tonight either. Just got to go back to the drawing board.”

The best thing on that board remains Cristian Javier. He is electric at his best, October dominant, cooler than a jazz musician on the biggest stage. In truth, Hunter Brown and Jose Urquidy have probably already failed any audition. Brown, who still may be Baby Verlander someday soon, maybe even next season, seems destined for the type of bullpen role in the playoffs that he thrived in last season.

Brown can be a weapon in that scenario. Maybe even regain his mojo and put together something to build on for next season. Hunter Brown sure doesn’t look like the same guy right now. But Astros catcher Martin Maldonado, who knows a little something about pitchers, still sees plenty there.

“I like what I saw,” Maldonado says when I ask him about Brown’s confidence. “I think he didn’t give up. He made a couple of mistakes. The homer to (Xander) Bogaerts was a mistake. I would say he grind, threw some good pitches.”

Brown certainly never quits or begs out like supposed Seattle Mariners ace George Kirby does in the middle of a heated American League West/No. 2 AL playoff seed race.

Houston Astros Hunter Brown won his major league debut pitching 6 innings of shutout ball against the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park Monday at Minute Maid Park
Young Houston Astros Hunter Brown is trying to find his way. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

The 25-year-old Brown isn’t making any excuses. He knows what the standards on this dominant franchise are, what is needed with only 20 regular season games remaining and a playoff berth that still needs to be secured.

“Obviously, it’s really frustrating,” Brown says, standing against the wall in the Astros’ clubhouse. “I thought I made some good pitches there. I hung a curveball to (Luis) Campusano. Which can’t really expect good results out of that. And I end up putting the eight hole guy on to kind of add to that. . .

“Honestly, it’s really frustrating. Especially scoring a run early on (Padres ace Blake) Snell, who’s obviously a really good pitcher. That was tough.”

The best thing on the Astros’ answer board remains Cristian Javier. He is electric at his best, October dominant, cooler than a jazz musician on the biggest stage.

Cristian Javier, Script Flipper

The Padres end up scoring 11 runs against the Astros despite Fernando Tatis Jr. going 0 for 5 with three strikeouts and Juan Soto adding a 1 for 4. San Diego’s No. 9 hitter Trent Grisham, who comes in batting .202 on the season, goes monster instead, driving in four runs with the help of a massive home run off Jose Urquidy. The most disappointing team in baseball (with apologies rendered to the New York Mets) feasts in downtown Houston.

But that will all be forgotten with another good Cristian Javier start on Saturday night. It might go under the radar of college football in Texas, with UT playing at Alabama in a TV showcase game and the University of Houston trying to move to 2-0 with a game at Rice, but this is a big moment for more than Javier.

It’s a big moment for entire Astros’ modern dynasty.

Houston still has one big answer on its roster. The 26-year-old with the magic fastball who turned himself from a low-level prospect signed for a mere $10,000 into a World Series shifter. Cristian Javier still has that stuff. Still has that moxie, grit and sometimes eerily calm confidence.

For all the talk about Chas McCormick’s playing time, personal centerfielders and who’s a Big Boy or not or a Dusty Baker favorite, nothing there will change everything for these Houston Astros. But Cristian Javier still can.

Houston Astros Hunter Brown won his major league debut pitching 6 innings of shutout ball against the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park Monday at Minute Maid Park
Astros manager Dusty Baker knows his team is good enough to pull off another special October. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

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