Last night, Mike Fiers threw his second no-hitter. He no-hit the Reds on 131 pitches, with three batters reaching against him on two walks and an error. It was the 300th no-hitter in major league history, and Fiers became the 35th pitcher in major league history to throw multiple no-hitters.
“You almost get emotional,” he said after the game.
The lights were out. Three panels of them out of five on the tower were non-functioning, looming barren above left field at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Where usually there were rows of bright lights, a series of illuminations hanging above the names of Jackson, Henderson, Eckersley, there were instead the unimpressive shadows of bare bulbs.
The problem was unanticipated, and clearly not easily fixed. I was watching when the lights went out at Dodger Stadium last year, and that technical issue certainly looked more impressive — one moment I saw a ballpark where a baseball game was happening; the next, a panicky wave of cell phone flashlights cresting a sea of darkness. But while play resumed for the Dodgers in just 20 minutes, it took almost two hours for the scheduled game between the Reds and the A’s to begin. Fifteen more minutes and the game wouldn’t have happened at all. Even as Fiers took the field to begin warming up, the lights still flickered, unsure.
As a high schooler in the baseball-saturated climes of South Florida, Mike Fiers had a mid-80s fastball and a good changeup, which was just a step above not playing baseball at all in terms of long-term prospects. He went to community college, then off to Kentucky and the University of the Cumberlands, a small private college. He changed his delivery to add a few more ticks of velocity, in hopes of attracting more than the little attention he was getting; his daily workout regimen began at 4 AM.
And then, in 2008, he fell asleep at the wheel on the Florida turnpike. He woke up knotted in a guardrail, one leg hanging useless from his side. After crawling free and eventually being recovered by an ambulance, he ended up in a back brace, with fractures in his back and pelvis, and a dislocated hip. He was lucky to be alive at all, and one would have imagined that baseball would be an afterthought in the wake of a traumatic brush with death. After all, the idea that someone could go from immobilized in a car wreck to NCAA baseball in a matter of months would strike most people as ridiculous.
Yet Fiers did it, somehow, and did it with aplomb. Nova Southeastern, a Division II outfit with no major leaguers in its program’s history, took a chance on him. That chance turned out to be mutually beneficial, as Fiers had one of the best spring campaigns in the school’s history, leading all Division II pitchers and setting a new school record with 145 strikeouts in 108.2 innings. And so, in the 22nd round of the 2009 draft, the Brewers, too, took a chance on a soft-throwing 24-year-old with a broken back in his recent past. Two years later, he was in the major leagues.
Despite appearances, though, Fiers’ is not the story of a player rocketing to wild and unlikely success. He made a good showing of his rookie season in Milwaukee in 2012, but his 2013 campaign was an unmitigated disaster, both on and off the field: After a horrendous start to the season, Fiers was demoted, his mother died, and his pitching arm was broken by a line drive within the space of a few months. Many people will remember him primarily for breaking Giancarlo Stanton’s jaw with a pitch in 2014. And after his first no-hitter against the Dodgers in 2015, an achievement that under most circumstances would have been considered an unambiguous success, all anyone could talk about was whether or not Fiers had cheated by concealing pine tar in his glove. Internet sleuths enhanced screenshots, circled shiny areas. Logic wanted to discredit this unlikely feat. Fiers’ career had established no precedent for something like a no-hitter — his no-hitter was, in fact, the first time he had ever even thrown a complete game. As far as experiments went, the reproducibility of the Mike Fiers No-Hitter seemed negligible at best.
According to StatCast, there were three Barrels in last night’s game. The first came off the bat of Yasiel Puig in the top of the second. The second came in the top of the sixth off the bat of Joey Votto, who had made the game’s first out with an infield fly ball. It was a first-pitch curveball. Votto hammered it into center field at 102.9 mph — an almost certain death-blow to the no-hitter that had just started to become real.
The third came off the bat of Jurickson Profar in the bottom of the seventh. It was the only one of the three that landed for a hit: a 393-foot home run to right field off Robert Stephenson. Profar was already responsible for the A’s first run; here, he was giving late insurance to a starter who had been warned that his time might be running out.
This was just Profar’s third home run of the year. After seeming to have finally put it all together last season, 2019 has been cruel to him. He is struggling to get on base, struggling to hit for power; in the field, he’s been plagued by the yips. Last night, he was the engine of the A’s offense. His defense preserved the no-hitter. As the game’s final pitches were thrown, the Oakland broadcast kept flashing to Profar’s face; this piece of history is his, too.
Last night, Mike Fiers threw his second no-hitter. He no-hit the Reds on 131 pitches, with three batters reaching against him on two walks and an error. It was the 300th no-hitter in major league history, and Fiers became the 35th pitcher in major league history to throw multiple no-hitters. Fiers — Mike Fiers, the 22nd-round pick with the broken back — will now always be part of a history that begins with Joe Borden and the Philadelphia White Stockings, the history of Bumpus Jones and Hideo Nomo, Homer Bailey and Sandy Koufax, Bud Smith and Bob Gibson.
That’s the wonderful thing about pitching achievements, the no-hitter and the perfect game. With their length and intensity, with the level of collaboration and the sprinkling of luck that is necessary to sustain that nine-inning walk along the knife’s edge, there is so much room for serendipity. In the annals of the no-hitter, you can just as easily find the greatest of all time proving why they’re the greatest as you can a roster of unlikely heroes — rookies, journeymen, washed-up veterans — who, for those few hours, reach out and find perfection. And the same stadium that holds the memory of Vida Blue and Catfish Hunter blanking their opponents, of Rollie Fingers and Nolan Ryan, now holds a new one: of Mike Fiers in the dark late night, after the lights came back on.
Rachael is the current managing editor of The Hardball Times and dilettante-in-residence at FanGraphs. Previous work can be found at Baseball Prospectus, VICE Sports, and The Hardball Times.