By Jan. 8, 2008, the underdog story of Brewers pitcher Mike Fiers had been in motion for some time.
Then a 22-year-old college pitcher, Fiers had lived his whole life to one day throw in the Major Leagues, but with a fastball that topped out in the low 90s, he wasn't drawing the eye of many scouts.
It had been that way since high school, when few colleges showed much interest in the right-hander out of Deerfield Beach(Fla.) High School. Without many options, he ended up at small Broward College before transferring to the University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky, where he was headed back to early on that January morning.
Back home in Florida for Christmas break, Fiers was hanging out with friends to watch the NCAA football National Championship game January 7. Once the game was over, he had a decision to make. Fiers was tired, but he knew he'd run into traffic if he left the next morning, so Fiers decided to hop in the car and leave -- a decision he now regrets.
"About 2:30 [a.m.] is when I started falling asleep at the wheel," Fiers said. "I ended up waking up hearing the side bumps on the road, and I turned my car and started spinning because I was already in the dirt, and I hit the guard rail with the back of my car first. I blacked out, and I woke up outside, stuck in the guard rail with my car across the street."
Once he came to and realized what had happened, Fiers' mind raced straight to the game he loved.
"Baseball had always been my life, so the first thing I did was check my right arm," Fiers said.
Fiers spent a day and a half in the hospital and needed the assistance of a walker and a back brace for a couple weeks after he left. The final injury count featured four fractures in his back, a fracture in his hip and a dislocated leg, but his right arm was unharmed. Still, for two weeks, Fiers didn't know if he would play competitive baseball again.
On Friday, though -- more than four years after his accident -- the now-27-year-old will take the mound for the 19th start of his rookie season. The Brewers took a chance on Fiers, who was scouted for the club by Charlie Sullivan, by taking the right-hander in the 22nd round out of Nova Southeastern -- which was his third college -- in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
While the majority of Fiers' starts came when the Brewers looked to be out of the playoff picture completely, Friday's outing vs. the Mets will take place in the midst of a late-season surge by Milwaukee. Since being swept by the Rockies in the middle of August, the Brewers have gone 20-7 and headed into their off-day Thursday just three games back for the second National League Wild Card spot.
And it's exactly how Fiers wants it to be.
"That's one of the reasons you play this game -- to play in front of thousands of fans," Fiers said. "Having the game on the line, it's fun. It's kind of indescribable. It's what you live for."
For much of the season, Fiers was one of the club's few bright spots. He went 5-4 with just a 1.88 ERA in his first 11 starts. Much like he has his whole career, Fiers had his share of doubters at the time. Many wondered if his success was the result of his deceiving delivery and opposing teams' unfamiliarity with him.
Fiers heard what some people thought of his abilities, but that wasn't new for him.
"That stuff helps me," Fiers said. "I heard a bunch of that. I faced all these teams for the first time and people said, 'Oh, what's going to happen when you see them again?' The Reds were coming, and I was like, 'We'll see.' It was kind of like, 'Just wait until I pitch against them, then give your comments and say what you feel about it.' I had that in the back of my mind, and it just pushed me to do better."
In that Aug. 7 game against the Reds, Fiers threw six perfect innings before giving up a hit in the seventh. He earned the 3-1 win after surrendering one run on three hits in eight innings and proved he wasn't a fluke.
"I think he's shown that he can pitch," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said after the game.
Fiers is still a bright spot, but he's not the only one. Not long ago, the Crew had been written off by most pundits, but the team's promising young pitcher was not included among the doubters.
"I just saw it -- if we put it together, we could play with anyone," Fiers said. "It's showing now. I'm glad it's coming around, and it looks like I wasn't just talking."
Last month, when Fiers was asked about what his strong pitching meant for his chances of making the rotation next year, he dismissed the thought because he still had a job to do this season. That mentality has paid off, but president of baseball operations and general manager Doug Melvin was more willing to talk about the future.
"[Fiers has] shown us that he probably deserves to be in the rotation," Melvin said. "That's a big plus. The tough part is always staying at [a high] level in this game. There's not a whole lot of guys that can do that consistently."
Although Melvin wasn't doubting the right-hander, Fiers could take Melvin's comments as a challenge. Judging by Fiers' past, that's very likely.
"It's just motivation for me," Fiers said. "I just have to do whatever I can. I have to pitch and put up good numbers and just try to do very well. I feel like I can pitch at this level, and I can pitch well. So now that I'm here, I'm just trying to work hard to stay here and prove everyone wrong."