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CIN@MIL: Fiers perfect into seventh, allows one run

MILWAUKEE -- Tuesday was the day some thought Mike Fiers would come back to earth. For the first time in his young Major League career, the Brewers rookie pitcher was facing a team that had already seen him, and it was uncertain whether the deception he used to build a 1.88 ERA entering Tuesday would hold up against a familiar opponent.

Unfortunately for the Reds, it's that kind of doubt that fuels Fiers. And whatever uncertainty was left as Tuesday's game began, it faded quickly, as the 27-year-old right-hander spent most of the night flirting with perfection, retiring the first 18 batters he faced on the way to a 3-1 Milwaukee win.

"I think he's shown that he can pitch," manager Ron Roenicke said. "He's a battler, he really competes well, and he just baffles guys with all the different stuff he has."

Fiers baffled the Reds with ease for the first six innings. Although it was the Milwaukee offense that started the excitement, scoring on a two-run shot by Aramis Ramirez in the bottom of the first inning, Fiers stole the show the rest of the way.

As each inning came and went without a Reds batter reaching base, each inning-ending putout drew a bigger roar from the crowd. In the second, it was a highlight-reel catch by Norichika Aoki in right field. Two innings later, it was a strikeout that brought Brandon Phillips to his knees. And by the time Fiers forced his counterpart, Reds starter Johnny Cueto, into a popout to end the sixth, there was excitement surrounding each and every at-bat.

From the mound, Fiers said he could feel the buzz in Miller Park take off in the fifth inning. That's also when he started to think he might be on the way to something special.

"It's always in my head," Fiers said. "I think every start I go out there I don't want anyone to get a hit. But when I'm in the sixth and seventh inning, it started getting a little late, thoughts came into my mind even more."

When the sixth inning closed and the Brewers and Reds headed to the top of the seventh, the score seemed irrelevant, as all the focus was on Fiers. However, all it took was one swing of the bat by Cincinnati leadoff man Zack Cozart, who sent a cutter into left-center field for a double to lead off the inning, ending Fiers' quest for the first perfect game in Brewers history.

"I thought it was a good pitch," Fiers said. "He went out there and got it, got the barrel on it and put it in a good spot."

The crowd of 41,213 gave Fiers a standing ovation after surrendering his first hit, and he said he took a moment to collect himself and take in the atmosphere. He then had to get himself out of the inning, though, which he did after two fly balls scored Cozart to make it 2-1.

Milwaukee earned the run back in the bottom half of the inning -- when Jean Segura notched his first Major League RBI with a groundout, scoring Rickie Weeks, who had doubled -- before Fiers came back out for the eighth. He struck out Scott Rolen to start the inning, but after a single, a flyout and another single, Roenicke went out to the mound to a chorus of boos.

"I was about to give him the ball," Fiers said. "And he was like, 'Hold on, I'm not taking you out yet, I wanted to see if you're all right.' He was great. He had confidence in me. He wasn't out there saying, 'Are you done?' He was like, 'I feel like you can do this. Do you have the confidence?' And I was like, 'Yeah, let's go.'"

Roenicke retreated back to the dugout, and Fiers induced the biggest cheer of the day by striking out Ryan Ludwick with the help of five straight fastballs.

Fiers' day was done after eight innings of work that saw him give up three hits and one run while walking none and striking out seven. He then handed the ball off to former Triple-A Nashville Sound teammate Jim Henderson, who said he spent the first eight innings admiring Fiers before recording a perfect ninth inning for his first Major League save in his first opportunity.

"He was spectacular," Henderson said of Fiers. "You could almost tell from the first inning that he was on. He was locating well, guys were making nice plays out there for him, and then he settled in."

Reds manager Dusty Baker, whose team is now 1-1 against Fiers this season, described Tuesday as "one of the best games we've had pitched against us in a long time." And you can add him to the list of people who believe Fiers is the real deal.

"When a guy comes in with a low ERA like that, he's not only beating you, he's beating everybody in the way," Baker said. "You don't want to lose, but tonight he just pitched a great game against us."

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