Hickey: Mariners' Gang of Six redefine no-hitter

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by John Hickey

SportsPressNorthwest

Posted on June 11, 2012 at 7:30 AM

Ask anybody who plays baseball, and they’ll tell you it’s a team game.

It does, however, have some very individual components. Of those, one of the most notable is the no-hitter.

Teams have been held without a hit 276 times in major league history. And 266 of those have been thrown by just one pitcher.

Friday night’s six-pitcher no-hitter turned in by the Mariners is a collective achievement of a mostly individual performance in a team game. That makes it special.

How special? When the Mariners brought all five relievers who followed Kevin Millwood to the mound into the small antechamber in the back of the clubhouse that serves as an occasional press room, left fielder Mike Carp sneaked in with his camera phone to capture the proceedings for posterity.

Even for guys who didn’t pitch, and for guys who aren’t pitchers, this was a big deal.

The Gang of Six – Millwood, Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen – will be linked forever not just in club history but in MLB history.

More than that, maybe they’ll get some street cred. Because, let’s face it, outside of Seattle (and probably inside it major portions of it), many of those who took part aren’t remotely close to being well known.

Winning pitcher Pryor was in the minor leagues a week ago. Luetge is a Rule 5 draft addition who’d never pitched above Double-A until this season. Furbush and Wilhelmsen didn’t make it to the big leagues until last year, and the free-spirited Wilhelmsen left professional baseball behind from 2004 and was a bartender for some time until being signed by the Mariners in the middle of the 2010 season.

Millwood and League each have the credibility of an All-Star Game appearance on the resume, but at 37 Millwood is past his prime and both he and the 29-year-old League, removed last month as the team’s closer, are candidates to be traded mid-season if the Mariners aren’t in contention. And maybe even if they are.

“What those guys did last night was awesome,” Felix Hernandez, the staff ace, said Saturday morning.

Curiously, the Mariners were planning on starting Hernandez on Friday, but continued back pain pushed back his start – he goes Tuesday – and that opened the door for Millwood.

“This is a pretty good bullpen, and not many people know about it,” Hernandez said. “Maybe now they will.”

It was the fourth no-hitter of the 2012 season. Pryor became just the third pitcher to get his first big league win in a no-no. On top of that, Jesus Montero became the youngest catcher in four decades – since current Mariner executive Ted Simmons caught Bob Gibson's no-hitter – to catch a no-no.

“When you are talking about just two times in history, that is rare,” Ichiro Suzuki said. He had three of Seattle’s eight hits and scored the only run on a Kyle Seager single. “All the relievers did such a great job.”

Ichiro said he respected Millwood for taking himself out of the game after six no-hit innings, knowing that Millwood wanted to stay and fight on but doing what was best for the team.

“The no-hitter is important,” Ichiro said. “But you don't want to risk too much just for the no-hitter. You want to win the game.”

Manager Eric Wedge fell in line with Ichiro.

“He’s the complete team player,” Wedge said of Millwood and his decision. “He knows what it takes to be a pro.”

Millwood wasn’t the only one to place secondary importance on the no-hitter, special as it turned out to be.

Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly came under fire in some quarters for bunting with two on and none out in the eighth inning. He gave up one of the final six outs the Dodgers had coming by bunting.

“We’re trying to win the game right there,” Mattingly said. “We’re not thinking about how to get a hit. We’re thinking about how to get two runs..

Neither the hit nor the runs would come.

The Gang of Six saw to that.

As the relievers broke up after talking with the media Friday, Wilhelmsen was asked one last question about the fate of the baseball with which the final out was recorded. Dustin Ackley threw from second to first baseman Justin Smoak for the out, then Smoak flipped the ball to Wilhelmsen as the celebration on the field began.

Wilhelmsen said he planned to keep the ball, but then reconsidered.

“Maybe I'll chop it up six ways,” he said.

Seems only fair.

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