A's Mike Fiers survived car crash, fought long odds to make bg leagues

A's Mike Fiers survived car crash, fought long odds to make bg leagues

Ten years ago, Mike Fiers nearly lost his life on Florida’s Turnpike, just north of Orlando.

The new A’s starter had decided to stay to watch a bowl game that January night, delaying his drive from Pompano Beach, near Fort Lauderdale, back to the University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky until late at night.

Just outside Orlando, at around 2:30 a.m., Fiers fell asleep at the wheel.

He hit the median, was ejected from the car and blacked out. When Fiers came to, he was wedged in the guardrail, with his car on the other side of the freeway, still running.

“It was so crazy I didn’t know what was going on,” Fiers said. “When I woke up in the guardrail, I realized I was alive, but I didn’t know what was wrong with me right away.”

All he knew initially was that his left leg was dangling awkwardly to the side and he had to get off the guardrail. But Fiers couldn’t move his leg — he had dislocated it.

“I had to pick it up to get it over the rail, and popped it back in,” Fiers said. “But I had to push myself off the rail, it was really dark.

“There was a trucker going by every so often and one of them must have called because my stuff was all over the road. I don’t know how long it took, but an ambulance came and as soon as they put me on the stretcher, I was in shock, I couldn’t move.”

After numerous tests to ensure he had no spinal-cord or neurological injuries, an MRI showed that Fiers had four fractures in his back and a small fracture in his left hip from the dislocation. He wound up in a back brace for several weeks, and he had to call his coach and tell him he wouldn’t be able to play.

For a player who had always struggled to be noticed in baseball-rich South Florida, such a setback might have proven too much, but Fiers took the positive approach.

“I was just glad I was alive, and once I knew I could walk, I knew I would be able to come back from it,” he said.

Fiers’ work ethic is “incredible,” said friend and workout partner Mike Dobre, an Army Ranger stationed at Fort Wainwright outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. Dobre trained with Fiers that offseason and most others, and it’s not a schedule for the timid: They’re up at 4 a.m. for beach runs, ocean swims and gym work.

“Mike’s always been an underdog, no matter what he does, and he always just works through everything, he’ll do whatever it takes,” Dobre said. “We’d trained the whole month before that accident, and at first it looked so devastating — he could have died, he broke his back, we weren’t sure how he’d recover, but once he was back on his feet, I knew he’d be OK.”

Before going to the University of the Cumberlands, Fiers played at Broward County (Fla.) Community College, and one of his coaches there, Felipe Suarez, recommended Fiers to his alma mater, Nova Southeastern University. There was one hitch: Fiers was considered an extreme medical risk after his accident, and the school didn’t want to be on the hook for expensive back surgeries.

“The athletic director really went to bat for him,” Suarez said. “He said, ‘This kid is special. You have to get him here.’ ”

Fiers’ 145 strikeouts in 1082/3 innings led all Division II pitchers in 2009, and after years of being ignored by scouts because his fastball didn’t crack 90 mph, he was suddenly in demand. Scout Charlie Sullivan, now with the Giants, remembers being wowed by Fiers’ ability to pound the strike zone with four pitches — whenever he scouted Nova games, he’d tell his wife he’d be back soon because Fiers was on the mound.

That thick medical file, though, scared off some teams. Sullivan, then with Milwaukee, gave Fiers a top grade of 80 for his command, convincing the Brewers to take Fiers in the 22nd round of the draft.

“He’s a strike thrower — he was that then and he is now, and a really good competitor,” Sullivan said. “That’s part of his arsenal, that determination, that drive Mike has. He always seems to come out ahead in critical situations, like (Sunday at Tampa Bay), with the bases loaded, he doesn’t have his best stuff and he gets out of it. You can’t put a price on that. How a guy reacts when his back is against the wall is very telling.”

Fiers spent six years in college and he found himself in rookie ball in Helena, Mont., with a bunch of kids straight out of high school. The Brewers, wanting to limit his innings after the college season, had him closing — and, using a new cutter that helped him against left-handed hitters, Fiers went a month without allowing a run.

“I think they were pushing me. I was older coming in, and it was like either you pitch well or you’re out of here,” Fiers said. “I didn’t have much time to prove myself, but it was understandable, these kids who are 19 years old, they have time to develop. It was kind of do-or-die, but I did well.”

He zipped through three levels that season and in 2011 was a September call-up, a rapid rise through a system not known for rushing pitchers.

“That was almost a necessity — 25 years old with just a year at rookie ball, that’s a perfect recipe to get released,” Sullivan said. “But that’s Mike in a nutshell. I really admire the way he’s forged his path. If he’d tripped that first summer, who knows where he’d be? But he answered that call and that’s the story of his career.”

Fiers won nine games for Milwaukee in 2012, but in 2015, the Brewers traded him to Houston, where the right-hander spent the next two and a half seasons. He signed a one-year deal with Detroit last winter, and was traded to Oakland on Aug. 6 for two minor-league players to be named, the first of which was reliever Nolan Blackwood.

The A’s have won seven of the eight games Fiers has started, and only twice has he allowed more than two runs. He could be the front-runner to start the wild-card game — or to pitch twice in a postseason series.

“Being able to pitch for a playoff-caliber club and getting a chance to help them — I just don’t want to mess it up,” said Fiers, who was left off Houston’s postseason roster last year after the team acquired Justin Verlander. “Don’t do anything different or out of the norm, just show up every fifth day ready to go.”

Of that, Suarez is sure.

“In sports, Mike doesn’t give in, and in life, he doesn’t give up,” Suarez said. “He’s a self-made man. He didn’t come from a lot, and for him to be where he is, I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Susan Slusser is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @susanslusser

Athletics squander chance to gain ground

Athletics squander chance to gain ground

St. Petersburg, Fla.

Jake Bauers hit a three-run homer off Jeurys Familia in the eighth inning to help the Tampa Bay Rays set back the playoff-chasing Oakland Athletics with a 7-5 win Saturday night.

Oakland remains 11/2 games behind the Yankees for the top AL wild card after New York lost to Toronto earlier in the day. The A’s have dropped two of three since winning six straight.

Bauers’ homer was just the second allowed by Familia (4-2) since he was acquired by Oakland on July 21 from the Mets. Bauers busted a 4-for-65 slump with three hits and four RBIs.

Nationals 7, Braves 1: Washington 19-year-old rookie Juan Soto became the youngest player to steal three bases in a game, had an RBI single and scored the tiebreaking run, helping the Nationals stop Atlanta’s season-best, six-game winning streak. Soto hit an RBI single in the first inning and stole second, then walked in the fourth, stole two bases and came home on a bases-loaded walk for a 2-1 lead. He surpassed the mark set by Oakland’s Rickey Henderson at 20 years, 241 days on Aug. 23, 1979, against Cleveland, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Dodgers 17, Cardinals 4: Yasiel Puig homered three times and had a career-high seven RBIs, giving him five homers in two games, and Los Angeles routed St. Louis to move ahead of the Cardinals into sole possession of the second National League wild card. Puig hit a solo homer in the fourth off John Gant (7-6) and three-run drives in the fifth against Mike Mayers and in the seventh versus Luke Weaver. Puig raised his season total to 21 homers with the first three-homer game of his major league career.

Indians 15, Tigers 0: Unchallenged for months, Cleveland clinched its third straight AL Central title with a blowout of Detroit, which made four errors and managed only two hits.

Cubs 1, Reds 0: Jon Lester allowed two hits over seven innings with a season-high nine strikeouts, Willson Contreras hit a run-scoring single in the sixth inning and Chicago beat Cincinnati to extend its NL Central lead. Seeking their third straight division title, the Cubs moved 21/2 games ahead of second-place Milwaukee. Chicago has won three straight and four of five.

White Sox 2, Orioles 0: Reynaldo Lopez was sharp over seven innings to continue his late-season surge and lift Chicago over Baltimore.

Phillies 5, Marlins 4: Cesar Hernandez hit a go-ahead, three-run home run in the fifth, seven relievers combined on seven shutout innings and Philadelphia beat Miami for its second straight win over the Marlins following a five-game losing streak. Philadelphia overcame a 4-0 deficit and closed within 61/2 games of first-place Atlanta in the NL East with 15 games left.

Astros 10, D’backs 4: George Springer had four hits and scored three runs to help Houston extend its lead in the AL West. After struggling to get hits in a 4-2 loss to the Diamondbacks the previous night, the Astros managed 12 hits — including 10 singles — and drew seven walks in the bounce-back win. Coupled with Oakland’s 7-5 loss at Tampa Bay, the Astros extended their lead to 31/2 games over the Athletics in the division with 14 games remaining.

Pirates 3, Brewers 1: Zach Davies failed to hold an early lead and gave up a go-ahead double to Francisco Cervelli in the fourth that lifted Pittsburgh. Milwaukee lost for just the fourth time in 15 games and dropped 21/2 games behind the NL Central-leading Cubs. The Brewers’ lead for the NL’s top wild card was cut to three over the Dodgers.

Royals 10, Twins 3: Ian Kennedy pitched six innings to earn his first win since the first week of April and Alex Gordon drove in five for Kansas City.

Note: Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer threw 40 pitches off a mound at Progressive Field as he recovers from a broken leg suffered Aug. 11 when hit by a line drive.

Jeurys Familia surrenders crushing homer, Melvin tossed in A's loss to Rays

Jeurys Familia surrenders crushing homer, Melvin tossed in A's loss to Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — With the season winding down, the opportunities for the A’s to gain ground on the New York Yankees become of great importance. This one was wasted.

After coming back late to tie the game, Jeurys Familia surrendered a three-run home run to struggling Rays first baseman Jake Baers in the eighth inning of Saturday’s 7-5 loss, keeping the A’s 1 1/2 games back of the Yankees for the top AL wild-card spot with 13 remaining.

A’s manager Bob Melvin wasn’t around to see the crucial blow from Bauers, tossed just before the inning began after frustration that had mounted with home plate umpire Larry Vanover over the strike zone. Melvin’s frustrations reached a boiling point when a pitch from Vidal Nuño to Marcus Semien appeared to be well out of the strike zone, but was called strike three for the second out of the eighth with the bases loaded.

Semien had argued with Vanover as he walked back to the dugout, and Melvin stuck up for his shortstop by continuing it after Mark Canha grounded into a force out to end the threat as the A’s stranded the bases loaded. It was the 19th time Melvin has been tossed in his 15-year big league career, and second time this season.

Matt Chapman hit a solo home run off Sergio Romo in the ninth, but the A’s deficit was ultimately too large to overcome

No A's sweep at Baltimore, 5-3 loss ends six-game winning streak

No A's sweep at Baltimore, 5-3 loss ends six-game winning streak

BALTIMORE – Oakland couldn’t manage to pull off a frankly anticipated sweep of baseball’s worst team, and now the A’s will spend the weekend playing one of the most improved teams in the league.

A 5-3 loss to the Orioles ended the A’s six-game winning streak and cost them a chance to gain a half game on division-leading Houston and top wild-card holder New York, who were both idle. Oakland trails the Astros by 3 ½ games and the Yankees by a game and a half but is eight games ahead of Tampa Bay for the second wild-card spot – and the A’s head to play the Rays next.

“They have a good team, you look at their run differential,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Tampa Bay’s plus-63 and adding that roster expansion has helped the Rays. “They benefit from September, too, because they use a lot of guys and match up a lot. Not only are they playing well, this September configuration works for them really well, and the more they win, the more confidence they have.”

Oakland took three of four games between the teams in May, but the Rays are 31-18 in the second half. The series also will present dueling “bullpenning” games – Tampa Bay originated the practice of using a reliever to work the first inning, then following with a more traditional starter-type, and the A’s have followed suit this month. The Rays will do so in all three games, and Oakland will do so Saturday.

The A’s had won all five games against Baltimore (42-104) going into Thursday, earning the respect of Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who said that the team’s ascension into a playoff spot does not surprise him and he thinks they could do well in the postseason.

“I would not want any part of playing them,” Showalter said on The Chronicle’s A’s Plus podcast. “They’re the Little Engine That Could. They have a great mentality and that plays in the postseason. … You like taking on the Goliaths and the guys with the big payrolls because you like to show the world that competitive fire comes out when you’re in that role. Also: They’re good. There are no Cinderellas in baseball, you are what you are. They’re going to win 90-to whatever games – they’re that good.”

Thursday, though, the A’s never quite got going, and Brett Anderson, just off the DL after missing two starts with nerve irritation in his left arm, got “nicked up,” in Melvin’s words. Anderson allowed an infield single and a bunt single in the first before Tim Beckham doubled in both runs with a two-out base hit to center.

“A little rusty, I threw some bad sliders in spots I needed to throw good sliders,” Anderson said. “Tonight was as about as frustrating as you can get because every groundball seemed to find a hole.”

In the fourth, Trey Mancini and former A’s prospect Renato Nuñez singled, and John Andreoli hit a tapper toward the mount. Anderson, never a great fielder, got to the ball and tried to make an off-balance throw across his body, but the ball sailed past catcher Josh Phegley and Mancini scored. Breyvic Valera then sent in Nunez with a single to center.

Some small consolations for Anderson: He looked at the Statcast numbers after the game and said he gave up only one and a half hard-hit balls, plus he came out of the start feeling healthy even after his awkward throw to the plate.

Stephen Piscotty provided a two-out solo homer off Dylan Bundy in the second, and the A’s scored their second run on a double by Marcus Semien and RBI single by Nick Martini in the fifth. Piscotty’s homer was his 24th of the season, an ongoing career high, and extended his hitting streak to 14 games, the longest current streak in the majors and an ongoing career high. Martini had three of Oakland’s nine hits and he also drew a walk.

The A’s loaded the bases with one out in the eighth and Matt Olson walked to send in one run, but Mychal Givens took over from Paul Fry and struck out Piscotty and got Semien to fly out. Eight of Oakland’s 11 strikeouts came with runners on base.

“”We give ourselves opportunities a lot, and typically we do come through,” Melvin said, noting that Givens is particularly tough on right-handed hitters. “If we keep doing that, we’re going to come through like we have before. We just didn’t tonight.”

Baltimore added a run in the eighth off Jeurys Familia, with Jace Peterson – who entered the game as a defensive replacement – doubling in Beckham.

The nightly Ramón Laureano defensive note: The rookie threw out Valera trying to stretch a single to center into a double, his seventh assist of the season, putting him third among AL center fielders after just 33 games.

Susan Slusser is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @susanslusser

Athletics' 6-game win streak ends with 5-3 loss to Orioles

Athletics' 6-game win streak ends with 5-3 loss to Orioles

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Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin, center, stands in the dugout in the second inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

BALTIMORE (AP) — Dylan Bundy had eight strikeouts in six solid innings, and the Baltimore Orioles ended the Oakland Athletics‘ six-game winning streak with a 5-3 victory Thursday night.

Stephen Piscotty homered for the A’s, who fell 3 1/2 games behind first-place Houston in the AL West and 1 1/2 back of the Yankees for the top wild-card slot.

Oakland activated lefty Brett Anderson from the 10-day disabled list to make his 14th start of the season. In his return from a forearm injury, Anderson (3-5) allowed four runs and didn’t make it out of the fourth inning.

Bundy (8-14) gave up two runs and six hits to earn his first win since July 29. The right-hander was 0-5 in his previous seven starts.

Though he yielded his major league-high 38th home run, Bundy was good enough to help Baltimore snap a six-game skid and avoid being swept for the 22nd time.

Down 4-2 in the eighth, Oakland loaded the bases with one out. After Paul Fry walked Matt Olson to force in a run, Mychal Givens struck out Piscotty and retired Marcus Semien on a fly ball.

Jace Peterson doubled in a run in the bottom half, and Givens worked the ninth for his seventh save.

Baltimore took its first lead of the three-game series when Tim Beckham hit a two-run single in the first inning.

Piscotty made it 2-1 in the second with his 24th home run, extending Bundy’s streak of allowing a long ball to 12 games.

The Orioles got RBI singles from John Andreoli and Breyvic Valera in the fourth, and Oakland answered with a run-scoring single by Nick Martini in the fifth.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Athletics: RHP Trevor Cahill had an MRI on his right shoulder due to soreness in his upper back. Manager Bob Melvin scratched Cahill from Saturday’s start and will probably go with reliever Liam Hendriks. Melvin said that if Cahill responds to treatment, he could start twice during the Sept. 18-23 homestand.

Orioles: RHP Andrew Cashner had an MRI on his left knee. Manager Buck Showalter said no structural damage was found, but the pitcher got a cortisone shot and could miss a start. … RHP Alex Cobb won’t pitch until Sept. 21 at the soonest because of an irksome blister, Showalter said.

MORE THE MERRIER

The Athletics have suited up 53 players this season, one short of the Oakland record set in 2007 and matched last year.

Baltimore has used 55 players this season, most since the team moved from St. Louis in 1954. That includes 28 pitchers, an Orioles record.

UP NEXT

Athletics: RHP Edwin Jackson (5-3, 3.26 ERA) is on the mound for the opener of a three-game series at Tampa Bay.

Orioles: RHP Luis Ortiz, obtained in the Jonathan Schoop trade with Milwaukee on July 31, makes his first major league start in a matchup with the visiting White Sox.

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/tag/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Athletics' Ramon Laureano: Excels out of of leadoff spot in blowout

Athletics' Ramon Laureano: Excels out of of leadoff spot in blowout

Laureano went 3-for-5 with a double, a triple, a walk, a stolen base and a run in a win over the Orioles on Wednesday.

Laureano’s on-base percentage is up to an impressive .372 following his third multi-hit effort of the last six games, which included his sixth and seventh extra-base hits over that stretch. The rookie outfielder is contributing across the board after his second-half callup, as Wednesday’s production brought his season line to .293/.372/.545, numbers partly comprised of eight doubles, a triple and five home runs.

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