OAKLAND -- Coming off one of their worst road trips in recent years, the A’s returned home needing a lift. There might not be a better remedy for an ailing club than the one Mike Fiers provided on Tuesday night.
Fiers wasn’t flashy, with a fastball that topped out just over 90 mph. He didn’t rack up the huge strikeout totals, registering six on the night. But he was a puzzle for Reds hitters en route to tossing the second no-hitter of his career in a 2-0 victory at the Coliseum. It was the 300th no-hitter in MLB history, and he became the 35th pitcher with multiple no-hitters in his career, including the postseason.
It was the 13th no-hitter in A’s history, and was kept alive with some major help from second baseman Jurickson Profar and center fielder Ramon Laureano in the sixth inning.
Profar made a spectacular diving catch in shallow right field to take away a hit from Kyle Farmer for a play that could have stood as the defensive gem of the night if it wasn’t for Laureano's leaping catch at the center-field wall to rob Joey Votto of a home run just one batter later.
“It was amazing. Things like this just happen,” Fiers said. “You go out there wanting to go deep in the game and get the defense off the field as quick as possible. Some great plays by Profar and Laureano, and [catcher Josh] Phegley putting down the right signs.”
Fiers required 131 pitches to make history, his highest pitch total since throwing 134 in his first no-hitter against the Dodgers on Aug. 21, 2015 as a member of the Astros.
Sean Manaea, who threw the A’s previous no-hitter last year, on April 21, was one of the first players who raced out of the dugout to mob Fiers on the mound after he got Eugenio Suarez to swing through a curveball in the dirt for the final out of the game.
It was one of Bob Melvin’s favorite nights as manager of the A’s, but also one of the most stressful. Once Fiers hit 120 pitches in the seventh inning, Melvin mulled whether or not he would keep Fiers out there, especially with a one-run lead. Melvin even broke an unwritten rule by mentioning the no-hitter to the right-hander, letting him know he was going to pull him if he allowed another base runner after he had walked two batters in the seventh.
“It was no fun for me once he got past 120 pitches. I promise you that,” Melvin said. “But he deserved it. Even after the walks, his stuff looked good after that. I really didn’t think after the seventh he would have enough pitches to get through that game. Pretty amazing stuff.”
Fiers and Phegley had a chemistry that appeared to be working from the start. Fiers retired the first 11 batters he faced before a ball hit up the middle by Jesse Winker with the shift on bounced off Matt Chapman’s glove with two outs in the fourth.
After issuing the walks in the seventh, and knowing he’d have to be perfect in the final two innings to have a shot at history, Fiers received more help from Profar, this time at the plate, when he smashed a solo homer in the bottom of the seventh to give him a little extra breathing room.
“It’s always tricky late in a game like that when a guy has a bunch of pitches,” Fiers said. “BoMel was definitely looking out for my health and the team as well. I’m just thankful for him to leave me in and trusting me. I felt great and everything was working. It wasn’t a matter of being tired. I had adrenaline at that point. It was just being myself and trusting Phegley behind the plate.”
Once Fiers got Suarez to swing through a curveball in the dirt for the final out, he stepped in front of the mound and threw both hands up in the air, as Phegley rushed over and picked him up. Fiers’ teammates sprinted towards the two to celebrate with them shortly after.
Prior to this point, it had been a rough start to the season for Fiers. Named the A’s No. 1 starter out of Spring Training, he entered the night with an ERA+ of 64 -- the worst of any starter in the Majors. He had been particularly hard on himself after each of his starts, saying he has to pitch better.
Reflecting on joining the select group of pitchers to throw multiple no-hitters nearly brought tears to Fiers' eyes when discussing the feat and what it meant to him, thinking back to his college days as a little-known pitching prospect in the talented South Florida area before getting drafted in the 22nd round by the Brewers in 2009.
“It’s pretty cool. I’m just grateful to be here,” Fiers said. “I wasn’t too high on the charts. I was a guy throwing 88-90 mph and down in South Florida, so I was one in a million down there. I want to thank Charlie Sullivan, a Milwaukee Brewers scout, for giving me the opportunity and putting in a good word. My coaches, family, friends, everybody who has stuck with me.
“You almost get emotional. I could be working a nine-to-five job, doing so many other things. Playing this game that I love, I’m just blessed.”
A perfect end to a bizarre night
When A’s players arrived to the clubhouse on Tuesday, they were greeted by Super Mario and Luigi, the mascots of the Nintendo Switch systems, which Khris Davis gifted to each of his teammates. The entire team spent time taking pictures with the two mascots and playing Mario Kart on the big screen inside the clubhouse, and then things got even weirder.
The game itself was delayed one hour and 38 minutes due to a light tower malfunction in left field. MLB was going to postpone the game if they were unable to start it by 9 p.m. PT, but the light tower turned back on fully by the fourth inning.
“It was pretty shocking. I showed up to the clubhouse and saw Mario and Luigi. We had a light tower out delay. Mike throws a no-hitter, and then I get covered in steak seasoning,” Phegley said. “You couldn’t have put those moments together in a single day if you tried.”
Fiers was not even supposed to pitch on Tuesday. His start was made possible after the A’s decided to skip Aaron Brooks’ spot in the rotation after the club had an off-day on Monday.
“A bunch of stuff just happened and that’s how these things happen,” Fiers said. “You can’t really write these things up. Baseball is definitely a weird game.”
A view from the other side
The last time Manaea was involved in a no-hitter, it was his own that he threw last year on April 21 against the Red Sox, which also came at the Coliseum. Once Fiers struck out Suarez for the final out on Tuesday, Manaea was one of the first players to race out of the dugout to join the celebration on the field.
“It was way more nerve-wracking than when I was doing it,” Manaea said. “I was shaking on the bench. It was crazy seeing him do it.”
A much-needed boost?
Melvin said it best when he called the A’s recent 1-8 stretch a “miserable road trip," their worst of eight or more games away from home since 2011.
“We’re kind of anchored by our pitching staff and how they do,” Phegley said. “Our offense will be there when we get hot, but to see Mike go out and pitch like that, I think that’s something that can catch steam and get us rolling.”
“I know I’m not the only one thinking about it,” Laureano said. “It’s going to be a fun ride from here on. This gives us momentum and rhythm to keep moving forward. I’m excited for it.”