Mike Fiers spins MLB’s improbable, incredible 300th no-hitter

After pitching the second no-hitter of his career and the 300th no-hitter in major league history, Mike Fiers delivered the understatement of the night: “I’m just glad they got those lights working.”

The start of the game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland Athletics in Oakland, California, was delayed 98 minutes because of a lighting malfunction. Three panels of lights — about 100 bulbs — above the left-field stands weren’t working, but the teams eventually agreed to go ahead and start the game. As Fiers pitched to Joey Votto leading off the game, the bulbs began turning on.

Then Fiers turned it on. He was saved with two superb catches in the sixth inning when Jurickson Profar ranged into shallow right field to make a diving catch on Kyle Farmer’s blooper, and then Ramon Laureano made the play of the game when he robbed Votto of a home run with a leaping grab in left-center:

In the ninth inning, sitting on a total of 118 pitches already thrown entering the inning and holding a slim 2-0 lead after Profar’s home run in the eighth, Fiers induced rookie pinch hitter Josh VanMeter to pop out to third base on a 0-1 changeup. Votto grounded out to first base on a 3-2 changeup, perfectly executed low and away (a great pitch following a 3-1 changeup that was up and away). Eugenio Suarez took an 88 mph fastball for strike one, fouled off another fastball, took two four-seamers up out of the zone for balls and then swing and missed at a curveball in the dirt:

Fiers joins Max Scherzer, Jake Arrieta, Justin Verlander and Homer Bailey as active pitchers with two no-hitters, but this one is remarkable in another regard: It was arguably the most unexpected no-hitter of all the no-hitters.

Fiers entered the game with a 6.81 ERA in eight starts. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, that’s the highest ERA for any player throwing a no-hitter with at least 25 innings entering the start. The previous high: José Jiménez had a 6.69 ERA when he threw his no-no for the Cardinals in 1999 (he would finish the season with a 5.85 ERA). That list:

Fiers, 2019: 6.81
Jiménez, 1999: 6.69
Dwight Gooden, 1996: 5.67
Ken Holtzman, 1971: 5.33
Jonathan Sanchez, 2009: 5.30

Take away the 25-inning qualifier and you get a few others, including Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter in 2011. He had made five starts that season with a 9.13 when he threw his no-hitter on May 3.

Fiers’ no-hitter is unusual in another regard, at least for this era of baseball: He threw 131 pitches, the most in a no-hitter since Fiers himself in 2015 when he no-hit the Los Angeles Dodgers while pitching for the Houston Astros. These days, when 120 pitches is a rarity, Fiers’ outing was just the fifth since 2015 with 130 pitches:

Fiers, 8/21/15: 134 pitches (no-hitter)
Clayton Kershaw, 9/2/15: 132 pitches (15 strikeouts)
Matt Moore, 8/25/16: 133 pitches (lost no-hitter with two outs in ninth)
Sean Newcomb, 7/29/18: 134 pitches (lost no-hitter with two outs in ninth)
Fiers, 5/7/19: 131 pitches (no-hitter)

Because of the limited pitch counts these days, there has been speculation that the individual no-hitter is all but dead. For example, since 2016 there have been six pitchers pulled while throwing at least seven no-hit innings. Managers simply won’t let a pitcher go much beyond 130 pitches, even in pursuit of a no-hitter. The no-no isn’t quite dead yet though. Sean Manaea and James Paxton achieved the feat last season, although both were very efficient (108 and 99 pitches). That’s the more likely scenario in 2019.

Adding to the unusual nature of this no-hitter is this list of the pitchers with at least two no-hitters and the worst career ERA:

Bailey: 4.58
Hideo Nomo: 4.24
Fiers: 4.11
Bill Stoneman: 4.07

So congrats to Fiers for having two days when everything went his way. The Reds certainly weren’t picking up his high fastball for whatever reason (besides bad lighting) as the right-handed batters in particular were late on a lot of fastballs. Or maybe the Reds were still disoriented from the swarming bees in Cincinnati on Monday.

When you think of the great pitchers who never threw a no-hitter — guys such as Pedro Martinez (although he once took a perfect game into the 10th inning), Roger Clemens, John Smoltz, Steve Carlton, Don Drysdale, Whitey Ford, Madison Bumgarner, just to name a few — Fiers’ achievement feels even more amazing.

That’s baseball. On any given night, anything can happen. Even a no-hitter.

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