Behind killer curve, unsung Mike Fiers throws no-hitter against Dodgers
Mike Fiers’s curveball was working Friday night. The pitch appeared to come out of his hand on an incline, arc over the plate, then drop into the strike zone, and Fiers could put it wherever he wanted. It was unhittable. So was Fiers. In just his third start since being acquired by the Astros along with Carlos Gomez, Fiers, armed with that remarkable curveball, threw the fifth no-hitter of the 2015 season Friday night.
That he didn’t give up a hit was only part of what made the game so exceptional for Fiers, however. The team he no-hit was the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers, who added Chase Utley to their lineup for the first time Friday night. Utley, incidentally, had a hit in each of his eight games since being activated from the disabled list coming into Friday night’s matchup against Fiers.
More than that, Fiers, a 30-year-old former 22nd-round pick who pitched exclusively in relief in his first year as a professional and didn’t make his first major league start until just two weeks shy of his 27th birthday, had never pitched into the ninth inning in any of his previous 58 major league starts. He had also never thrown more than 113 pitches in a major league game. On Friday night, Fiers entered uncharted water on both counts. He entered the ninth having thrown 120 pitches (he finished at 134), and remained unhittable.
The only baserunners Fiers allowed in the game came via three early walks. Fiers walked the third batter he faced, Justin Turner, with two out in the first, then walked Andre Ethier and Joc Pederson leading off the second and third, respectively. But none of those three runners reached second base, and after the walk to Pederson, Fiers retired 21 straight to complete the no-hitter.
Fiers didn’t need any extraordinary plays from his defense to keep the Dodgers hitless. The only play I saw that required anything other than what might be termed ordinary effort came on the first batter of the ninth inning. That batter, Utley’s former and once again current double-play partner Jimmy Rollins, hit a fastball to the 373 sign in rightfield that Jake Marisnick, the hitting star of the Astros’ 3–0 win, glided over to snag on the warning track with his back to the plate.
Prior to that, Fiers had struck out five batters in a row stretching back to the seventh inning, two of them (lefties Ethier and Carl Crawford) on three pitches. One of the five came on what, in my opinion, was his best curveball of the night, a wicked yakker (see GIF below) that appeared to be floating above Enrique Hernandez’s head before falling off a table to become a belt-high strike. Pederson followed Hernandez to the plate and took three straight balls, just the second 3–0 count of the game on a Dodgers hitter, but Fiers battled back and struck out the slumping rookie with a perfectly placed 89-mph fastball on the inside corner.
Fiers had shown little emotion to that point, but he leapt off the mound and pumped his fist when home plate umpire John Tumpane punched out Pederson. Fiers then reportedly informed his manager, A.J. Hinch, that there was no way he was going to come out of the game despite having already exceeded his career high in pitches by seven.
“I told him I wasn't going to come out of the game,” Fiers told reporters after the game. “He'd have to throw me in the clubhouse, lock me somewhere.”
In the ninth, after Rollins’s deep fly caused the righthander’s heart to skip a beat, Fiers got Utley to hit a more conventional fly-out to right. He then got ahead of Turner 0-1 and 1-2 before evening the count with an overthrown fastball that sailed high, pulling catcher Jason Castro out of his crouch. Fiers regrouped and painted the outside corner with a 91-mph fastball that Turner swing through for strike three, his 10th strikeout of the game, sealing the no-hitter.
Fiers’s no-no is the first in Minute Maid Park history. It is also the first by Houston since six Astros combined to no-hit the Yankees in New York on June 11, 2003, and the first by a single Astros pitcher, as well as the first in Houston, since the late Darryl Kile no-hit the Mets at the Astrodome a decade earlier on Sept. 8, 1993. The last time the Dodgers were no-hit was also a combined no-hitter, that coming at the hands of Kevin Millwood and five Mariners relievers on June 8, 2012. The last time a single pitcher no-hit the Dodgers was when Kent Mercker did it on April 8, 1994 in the first no-hitter in the major leagues after Kyle’s. Meawhile, Fiers is the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter after being traded in the same season since Jim Bibby threw one for the Texas Rangers on July 30, 1973 after being traded from the Cardinals on June 8 of that year.
Fiers’s no-hitter comes just nine days after Hisashi Iwakuma broke a three-year no-hitter drought for American League pitchers and is the first no-hitter by an American League team other than the Mariners since Jered Weaver’s on May 2, 2012. The last five no-hitters by American League pitchers have now been thrown by AL West teams (Weaver, Angels; Millwood and company, Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma, Mariners; Fiers, Astros). This is now the fourth season out of the last six to yield at least five no-hitters, matching last year’s total with exactly that amount.