HOUSTON - A few months ago, Mike Fiers was known as the guy who threw the pitch that fractured Giancarlo Stanton's face. A few weeks ago, he was known as that other guy in the trade that brought five-tool center fielder Carlos Gomez from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Houston Astros in exchange for a package of prospects.
Now he's known as the guy who threw the first no-hitter in Minute Maid Park history.
Fiers' rambling 10-strikeout, three-walk, 134-pitch no-hitter in the Houston Astros' 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers Friday night may not have been the most dominating effort in baseball history -- Fiers said he was quick to mention to Astros executive Nolan Ryan that he didn't have nearly the fastball of the franchise icon -- but it built to a crescendo in the late innings.
More than 33,000 fans here finally got caught up in the moment in the ninth inning. They were on their feet before it and, by the time Justin Turner stepped to the plate with two outs, the din was impressive. Every other fan seemed to have a cell phone or camera in their hands. Fiers struck Turner out on an 89 mph fastball, chucked his glove and awaited the bear hug from catcher Jason Castro, his new teammates streaming in from all corners of the field.
Before that final at-bat, the moment got a little too much for Fiers. The lanky, bearded right-hander stepped off the rubber.
"Oh man, my chest was beating hard," Fiers said. "The crowd helped me, definitely. Everyone was on their feet. I kind of looked around for a quick second, everyone's just going crazy and I'm just trying to get it done that much more."
This one snuck up on just about everybody involved. Before Friday, Fiers had never pitched in the ninth inning in a start before. He came into the game with a lifetime record of 22-28.
Fiers walked a batter in each of the first three innings and his command was far from pinpoint, forcing him to throw 60 pitches in those first three frames. After that, however, he was brilliant, mixing a high fastball that hovered around 90 mph with a fading changeup, a good breaking ball and a cutter to keep hitters off his fastball. The final 21 batters went down in order.
"He stayed a step ahead of us, it seemed like," Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford said. "He kept making adjustments before we did and he hit all the spots. He didn't leave anything over the plate for us to hit."
Had the ninth inning gotten a bit hairier -- Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley quickly flew out to right -- Fiers would have put manager A.J. Hinch on the spot again. Hinch was the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010 when Edwin Jackson threw a 149-pitch no-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays. After that, Jackson went 5-6 with a 4.31 ERA the remainder of that season and got traded to the Chicago White Sox. Hinch was fired in July.
"I think there were a lot of people probably wondering how high I was going to let him go and now I don't have to answer that, which is good," Hinch said Friday night.
Crawford said Dodgers hitters were warned not to chase high fastballs, a ploy Fiers uses frequently. Last Sept. 11, Fiers tried to go up and in to Stanton and struck him with an 88 mph fastball in the face, causing multiple facial fractures, broken teeth and several facial lacerations that required stitches. Stanton, one of the game's most feared sluggers, missed the remainder of the season. Afterward, Fiers was emotional in his comments to reporters, saying he would never do something like that on purpose and saying he felt, "very, very sad" that he hit him.
Fiers was choked with emotion after Friday's performance as well, but for far happier reasons. He said he thought of his mother, who died a few years ago and of former teammates who are no longer in baseball.
Fiers had spent his entire career in Milwaukee's organization until he was traded along with Gomez and cash in exchange for Josh Hader, Adrian Houser, Brett Phillips and Domingo Santana shortly before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. He said the last time he threw a no-hitter, it was in a college wooden-bat league.
He might have caught the Dodgers at a good time. Though the Dodgers lead the National League in OPS and home runs and are fifth in runs, they have been making pedestrian pitchers look like aces lately. On Tuesday, Felix Doubront of the Oakland A's allowed them just one hit in six innings. The next day, Jesse Chavez gave up two hits over seven.
Still, the Dodgers were impressed with Fiers' ability to keep them off balance. Turner said Fiers threw him just two fastballs in his first three at-bats before throwing him five straight in the ninth-inning at-bat.
"This guy's a really good pitcher," Hinch said. "He might be unheralded or he might be under the radar, he might not be a household name, but you talk around the league, he's had plenty of double-digit punchout games. He's been very, very effective the last couple of years. No-hitters in general are improbable, but take nothing away from Fiers against that team. He's a tough guy to hit."