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Fiers starts cold, then turns up heat on Dodgers

After throwing 60 pitches through three innings, righty settles into a groove

HOUSTON -- In those final innings Friday night, Astros right-hander Mike Fiers fed off the roaring crowd, and his own endless supply of adrenaline and dreams.

"My chest was beating hard," Fiers would say later.

Complete coverage: Mike Fiers' no-hitter

It took Fiers a long time getting to a moment like this. Plenty of people doubted him through the years. He's a year removed from pitching on the Pacific Coast League All-Star team. Fiers was 29 at the time of that game, and he knew the clock was ticking on his ultimate dream.

In the end, Fiers simply needed someone to believe in him. When a guy doesn't light up radar guns, there's a different standard. That surely made this thing he did on Friday at Minute Maid Park a bit sweeter. Suddenly, all those starts in the Minors must have seemed worth it.

In his 59th Major League start, Fiers threw the 11th no-hitter in Astros history in a 3-0 victory over the Dodgers. He needed 134 pitches to do it, and it was a reminder that great pitching is an art form.

"Incredible performance," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

Fiers needed 60 pitches just to get through the third inning as the Dodgers ground out one long at-bat after another. In the fourth inning, though, he began to make it look easy.

Video: [email protected]: Fiers strikes out 10 Dodgers in no-hitter

After the third, Fiers didn't need more than 13 pitches in any inning until throwing 14 in the ninth. He changed speeds, threw to spots and seemingly gave every pitch a different look.

Fiers threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 30 hitters, and he went to 0-2 counts on eight of them. And by those middle innings, the Dodgers understood he was willing to throw any of his pitches for strikes.

Fiers was especially effective throwing his fastball up in the strike zone, then following with a curve in the bottom of the zone. There was no way to cover that amount of strike zone against a pitcher willing to use all of it.

Fiers got four of his 10 strikeouts on curveballs and four on fastballs. He got one on a changeup and another on a cutter. He struck out five straight Dodgers in the seventh and eighth innings, and as Hinch said, "That was as impressive as you can get. He had some emotion going."

Fiers gave every Dodger something different. He finished off Carl Crawford on a fastball-cutter-curve combination. He set up Enrique Hernandez with two fastballs, then struck him out on a big, slow curveball that froze him.

When Fiers struck out Joc Pederson to end the eighth, he pumped his right fist furiously as he headed for the dugout awash in the cheers.

Video: #THIS: Fiers joins Astros history with no-hitter

Even as Fiers' pitch count rose, he never considered going out. His manager didn't, either.

"A.J. came up to me a couple of times and said, 'You good?'" Fiers said. "It's once-in-a-lifetime for me. Nolan Ryan's got a lot of 'em."

In an already magical season for this franchise, this was one more special day. Fiers surely had no idea what to expect when Houston acquired him and his teammate, outfielder Carlos Gomez, at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

The Astros were in first place, and they had already acquired a top-of-the-rotation guy in Scott Kazmir. Their pitching was solid. Fiers couldn't have known it at the time, but he'd come to the perfect place. Houston spent 115 days atop the American League West because they have a knack for finding value here, there and everywhere.

And the Astros were thrilled to land Fiers. They pointed out that he was averaging more than a strikeout an inning. They liked that Fiers was unafraid to throw an assortment of pitches for strikes.

Video: [email protected]: Fiers discusses no-hitter, gets doused

They also thought they could help Fiers get even better. Houston's pitching coach, Brent Strom, is one of the best in the game, and the organization's analytics department could assist Strom in exploiting opposing hitter weaknesses.

Sometimes, it's strange how things work out in a team sport. Fiers' first appearance for the Astros was a bad one. He allowed six runs during a five-inning relief performance. But that game won him points in the clubhouse culture.

Fiers was scheduled to start the following day, but when rookie Lance McCullers couldn't get out of the first inning, Fiers ended up pitching in relief. He gave up five runs in his first inning, but got through four more and helped save the bullpen from a disastrous game.

"That kind of game made a good impression on our guys," Hinch said.

Fiers has made two solid starts since then, but on Friday, he did something way beyond that. Right at the end, with the crowd cheering and the atmosphere electric, Fiers paused for an extra instant to soak it in.

"It's one of those moments you don't get often," Fiers said. "It's everything you dream of as a kid."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.
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