The San Juan Daily Star
A no-hitter with four pitchers but only one catcher
By David Waldstein
In some ways, every no-hitter in baseball history — from Bumpus Jones’ in the 19th century to Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, all the way to Wednesday night, when a collection of four Houston Astros pitchers accomplished the feat — was a combined no-hitter.
Someone caught those games, called the pitches and worked in tandem to summon the very best from that pitcher (and more recently, group of pitchers). Yogi Berra combined with Larsen for perfection in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, and Christian Vázquez was the man behind the plate in Game 4 of the World Series in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
While the pitchers funneled in and out of the game, Vázquez was the only constant in a pitcher-catcher battery that combined to make history.
“There’s only two catchers in history to make or call a no-hitter,” Vázquez said, referring to the two World Series no-hitters, “So, yeah, it’s very special day for us, and we’re happy to get that W for everybody.”
At a glance, Vázquez is somewhat reminiscent of Berra. He is a stocky catcher who stands 5 feet 9 inches tall, wears baggy pants and calls a terrific game. He won’t win 10 World Series rings or go into the Hall of Fame like Berra did, but he can hit a little, too. Vázquez rapped out a single in Game 4, which was more than the Philadelphia Phillies could muster.
But his main function was to work with the staff, to call for just the right pitches at just the right time in just the right locations, and ensure that everyone is energized and focused.
On Wednesday, Cristian Javier started things off with six dominant innings, followed by Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly, who each threw one inning. The group effort was the second no-hitter in World Series history.
Javier threw 97 pitches in six innings, relying heavily on his elevated fastball. Abreu needed only 15 pitches, Montero 10 and Pressly 19. But Vázquez called for, and caught, all 141.
“Vázquez, today specifically, he stayed on top of me,” Javier said through an interpreter. “He continued to motivate me throughout the game, and called a great game, and gave me really good positive energy. I think that’s one of the reasons why we got the results we did today.”
Vázquez saw early on that the Phillies were not seeing Javier’s fastball very well, so he kept calling for it: 72% of the time in the end.
What made Vázquez’s work even more impressive is that he did not even join the Astros until Aug. 1, when he was acquired from the Boston Red Sox in a trade for prospects Wilyer Abreu and Enmanuel Valdez. It was only the second transaction of Vázquez’s career. The first was when he was selected by the Red Sox in the ninth round of the 2008 draft.
It is challenging for catchers to join a new team so late in the season. They must go through an accelerated course of learning the repertoire, tendencies, preference and idiosyncrasies of each pitcher, and figuring out how to get the best from their talented arms.
One thing that helped is that Vázquez, who is from Bayamón, Puerto Rico, speaks Spanish, as do many of the Astros pitchers.
“We’re Latino,” Montero said through an interpreter, “and where there are a lot of Latinos, when another arrives, we welcome them and as a team. It’s the right thing to do, give the support to whomever arrives here.”
Vázquez learned very quickly, and received insight from Martín Maldonado, Houston’s other catcher. According to Ryne Stanek, one of the Astros relievers, Vázquez already knew many of the Astros hurlers from facing them as a member of the Red Sox. That included their postseason bouts in 2017, 2018 and last year.
“Still, it’s incredibly difficult to come in and learn a whole new pitching staff,” Stanek said. “He did it on the fly and learned the staff so quickly. It’s been an incredible transition.”
But not all the Astros pitchers were new to Vázquez. Pressly said that the first pitch he ever threw as a professional, in the Red Sox minor leagues in 2008, was to Vázquez. The most recent one, as well.
“He was back there from the beginning of my career,” Pressly said.
After the final out, Vázquez did not jump into Pressly’s arms, the way that Berra did with Larsen in ’56. But he jogged out with a little more enthusiasm than after an ordinary Game 4 win. He hugged Pressly and his teammates with a beaming smile, and later signed a ball with all the pitchers that is headed to the Hall of Fame.
“We’ve not finished the job yet,” Vázquez said, with Game 5 set for Thursday night in Philadelphia, “but this is very, very special for us. And when we get old, we’re going to remember this.”