You’d be hard pressed when asked to think of things baseball people love more than milestones. Except maybe excuses for puns clever and otherwise.
“A’s to Reds: You’re Fiered!” went one such posted on Facebook, after Mike Fiers threw a curve ball that took a swan dive below Eugenio Suarez’s bat to finish a no-hitter Tuesday night.
Imagine if that Facebooker and others in the moment knew it was the 300th no-hitter in major league history. Three hundred has a few magic connotations in baseball and otherwise.
Pitching wins are now overrated in evaluating a pitcher’s actual value, but even those who overrate them with cause like to ponder who’s likely to to be credited for 300 of them next. CC Sabathia’s out of that running since he plans to retire after this season and isn’t likely to earn 52 wins between now and then. Justin Verlander may have an outside shot if his arm obeys his known wishes and lets him pitch another five or six years.
But Fiers didn’t just pitch baseball’s 300th no-hitter but the second one of his otherwise journeyman major league career. With a 4.38 lifetime fielding-independent pitching rate (that’s your ERA when your defenses are removed from the equation, folks) so far in a nine-year career, to go with his 4.11 lifetime ERA, Fiers isn’t exactly a Hall of Famer in the making.
But modestly gifted men have been known to perform immodest deeds now and then. And fans of modest intelligence have been known to say that certain milestones “should” be reached by none but the proven absolute greats.
Such fans several generations ago said it about Roger Maris daring to chase, catch, and pass Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. You could almost hear the isolated harrumphing now: “Who the hell is this guy to pitch the 300th no-hitter? That’s supposed to be Max Scherzer! Or Justin Verlander! Or Clayton Kershaw! Mike Who?!?”
Unfortunately, baseball doesn’t always work that way, bless the game. If the guy you wouldn’t spot in a Grand Central Station rush hour throng can come up big in the biggest moments like the postseason (Howard Ehmke, Al Gionfriddo, Sandy Amoros, Don Larsen, Moe Drabowsky, Al Weis, Denny Doyle, Mark Lemke, and David Freese, anyone?), why can’t the guy you’d never mistake for Tom Seaver throw a milestone no-hitter?
There are 35 pitchers who’ve thrown more than one no-hitter in their careers and, not counting such still-active men as Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, 22 of them aren’t Hall of Famers.
Among those like Fiers who’ve thrown two, Cooperstown has seven: Pud Galvin, Christy Mathewson, Addie Joss, Warren Spahn, Jim Bunning, Randy Johnson, and Roy Halladay. Three men have thrown three and only one of those, Larry Corcoran, isn’t a Hall of Famer.
Fiers is also one of only eight men to pitch a no-hitter for more than one team. He’s done it for the Astros (in 2015) and now the A’s. The list includes Cy Young, Bunning, Johnson, and Ryan among the Hall of Famers and Ted Breitenstein, Adonis Terry, and Hideo Nomo otherwise.
Johnny Vander Meer (not a Hall of Famer) is still the only man to pitch no-hitters in back-to-back starts; Sandy Koufax is still the only man to throw no-hitters in four consecutive seasons, with his fourth proving literally that practise makes perfect. Nolan Ryan fell short of that streak by a season (he pitched two in 1973 and one each in 1974 and 1975) while working toward his record seven.
Fiers is in rather charmed company now. Especially since May is the month for milestone no-nos, and the two previous to his were also thrown by Hall of Famers. Carl Hubbell threw number 100 ninety years ago today; and, Dennis Eckersley threw number 200 on 30 May 1977. Anyone care to predict which May to come will feature no-hitter number 400?
And Fiers is another kind of outlier. No pitcher ever took a season’s 6.81 ERA to the mound before throwing a no-hitter.
“I’m just glad they got those lights working,” Fiers deadpanned after the 2-0 win.
He referred to three panels of lights failing above the left field stands in Oakland’s otherwise unloveable Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Game time was delayed a little over an hour and a half. Finally, the A’s and the Reds said let’s play ball and Joey Votto checked in at the plate to open.
Votto popped out to the infield to open. Suarez struck out to finish. Except for an error at third in the fourth, Suarez working out a leadoff walk in the seventh, and Yasiel Puig walking later in the inning, no Red reached base in any way, shape or form.
And, yes, Fiers needed a little help from his friends in the sixth inning, such as Jurickson Profar ambling out to shallow right to catch Kyle Farmer’s quail and, especially, Ramon Laureano—making a fresh reputation as an outfield acrobat—taking a home run away from Votto with a leap up the short end of left center field wall.
Not to mention Profar driving home both the runs in the game, first with a two-out double in the second with Stephen Piscotty aboard and then with a two-out launch over the right field fence in the seventh.
Maybe the testiest moment of the game came in the ninth with one out, when Fiers fell behind Votto 3-1 before throwing the Reds first baseman a changeup nasty enough to be worth nothing more than a ground out to first base.
For Laureano that play was an awakening. “That’s the first time I realized he had a no-hitter,” he said of Fiers’ performance. “Really, I didn’t know.”
“I think the stars aligned tonight,” said Farmer of the Profar and Laureano catches. “Once we saw those two plays happening, we said this might be his night.”
It wasn’t exactly a picnic for the last A’s pitcher to throw a no-hitter. “It was way more nerve-wracking then when I was doing it,” said Sean Manea, who threw his last year but who’s still working his way back from September surgery to repair a torn shoulder labrum. “I was shaking on the bench. I don’t know, it was crazy seeing him do it.”
It didn’t stop Manea from being the man to shower Fiers—who wouldn’t have pitched Tuesday at all if the A’s hadn’t shuffled their rotation on their off day, as things turned out—with the Gatorade tank.
“I remember when I was drafted, I wasn’t too high on the charts,” Fiers told reporters after surviving the mobbing he got on the mound when the game ended. “I was a guy throwing 88 to 90, down in South Florida. I’m one in a million down there.” And in more ways than one, his million-to-one shot came home.