Fiers off the soapbox, back on the mound

© Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

MESA, Ariz. — The guy at the center of the controversy, the one who spoke out, got off his figurative soapbox on Sunday and back on the mound.

To some, Mike Fiers is a whistleblower.

To the Oakland Athletics, he’s a pitcher.

The second game of spring training, the first start for Fiers. It didn’t matter that David Ortiz had called him a snitch (Donald Trump likes that word) or Pedro Martinez said Fiers was a bad teammate. (Yes, Ortiz and Martinez both were on the Red Sox. Hmmm...)

All that mattered, Fiers said on this warming afternoon in the desert (59 degrees at game time), was to focus on getting his work, on starting well, as opposed to last season when the A’s had to go to Japan for league games, then return to California for exhibition games against the Giants.

“We started slow,” said Fiers, who was a 9-7 loser to Seattle in one of those games on the other side of the Pacific and, considering it was March 21, barely the right side of the calendar.

Fiers, however, finished notably, with both a 15-4 record and, you’d have to concede, the biggest baseball story of the season — the cheating by the World Series champion Houston Astros in 2017, when Fiers played for them.

Either Fiers had a guilt complex, was overcome by a sense of fairness or wanted to get the attention that someone on a West Coast team other than the Dodgers never could receive.

Whatever the reason, he instantly became a hero (the last honest man?) or a pariah (Whacky-leaks?). Or both.

The commissioner of baseball, Rob Manfred, apparently is unable to decide. He said Fiers’ confession is good for the sport. Yet Manfred hasn’t removed the World Series championships earned by the ‘Stros or in 2018 by the Boston Red Sox.

As you might imagine, there are people, particularly major league baseball players, who believe no news is good news, and are a bit irked at Mr. Fiers. Some of the irked remain on the Astros, who quickly (March 30-April 1) face the A’s in Oakland.

Retaliation? A fastball in Fiers’ ear? It’s the American League, the Designated Hitter League. Fiers will be safe and secure, maybe chuckling to himself, when Oakland batters come to the plate.

Fiers is nothing if not aware. He threw 19 pitches in the two innings he worked Sunday and allowed no runs. The A’s were beaten by the visiting Giants, 5-3; in the other game of the split-squad schedule, they also lost to the Diamondbacks, 7-3.

So the A’s are 0-3 this Cactus League. You might as well ask Fiers about that as ask him another question about sign stealing. He knows how to get a curve past a guy with a bat and knows how to respond to a man (or woman) with a microphone. Give them nothing they want.

Astros retaliation? Ortiz and Martinez observations? “I’m not worried about that,” he said. “I’m worried about playing baseball.”

A robot couldn’t have provided a more innocuous answer. Look, Fiers understands our roles (to be inquisitive) and understands his (to be evasive).

This was just the beginning, after a game that meant nothing, in front of a group of journalists who did their best not to say anything worthwhile. Soon, he will be going to places such as New York, Boston and Houston. He’ll be booed (though he was cheered by most of the 6,000-plus fans at HoHoKam Stadium). He’ll be ripped.

“The Oakland fans will support you no matter what,” he said, straying as far from the subject as possible.

Mike Fiers looked very much as if he’s ready for the long season, cutting down Giants batters. Then he acted very much prepared for dealing with the fallout of the baseball mess he told us about.

Hard not to admire him. Tune up that whistle.

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