Commentary

Mariners surprised by no-hit feat

History-making, six-pitcher effort takes time to sink in for Seattle players

Originally Published: June 8, 2012
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

SEATTLE -- For the briefest moment Friday night, Tom Wilhelmsen did not realize just how great the greatest moment in his career was. It didn't really sink in until catcher Jesus Montero was leaping into his arms.

"I told him, 'Man, you threw a no-hitter!'" Montero said. "And he didn't know! Unbelievable."

Well, in WIlhelmsen's defense, he was the sixth pitcher of the night for the Mariners.

"Well, I mean, I knew what was going on. But no, I have a brain fart every so often and just focused so hard on getting one thing done," Wilhelmsen said. "It's not like you forget, but it's like you put it off to the side. And then it's like, 'Holy cow, we just did it,' and Montero is in my arms. And then it's, 'Holy Cow, we just did it!' 'HOLY COW, WE JUST DID IT!' Something like that.

"It's there; it just takes a minute to get it, pick it out and place it in."

Wilhelmsen wasn't the only one who needed time to take everything in. Brendan Ryan, a ninth-inning replacement at shortstop, said it took awhile for the rest of the Mariners to realize six Seattle pitchers had just combined to throw a 1-0 no-hitter against the Dodgers, the team with the best record in baseball.

"Coming into the ninth, it wasn't really on my mind. What was on my mind was preserving that 1-0 lead we fought so hard to get," said Ryan, who helped preserve both with a slick fielding play on Dee Gordon's grounder in the ninth. "We were just trying to get the W. It kind of took five seconds or so to sink in. 'Wait a minute. Wait a minute. There were no hits. That's a no-hitter!'"

[+] EnlargeKevin Millwood
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesKevin Millwood (six innings) and five Mariners relievers combined to throw the fourth no-hitter of the season.

Well, it's not surprising this combined six-pitcher no-hitter took so long to sink in. After all, it was as delightfully unrealistic and unpredictable as baseball gets.

Consider this: The man who started it (Kevin Millwood) is a 37-year-old journeyman who watched the final three innings on TV in the clubhouse while undergoing treatment for a sore groin. He didn't even get the win because the game was still tied at 0 when he left. The winning pitcher (Stephen Pryor) is a 22-year-old rookie who was in Triple-A Tacoma the last time the Mariners played a game in Seattle. And the reliever on the mound at the end (Wilhelmsen) is a former bartender.

Man, baseball is great, isn't it?

Millwood threw a 1-0 no-hitter with the Phillies in 2003, but he is with his ninth organization in the past decade and spent four months of last season pitching in the minors for two different teams. He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against Colorado on May 18, then allowed only a walk in the first six innings Friday. But he left the game with a sore groin while warming up for the seventh inning and spent the last part of the no-hitter wearing an ice pack.

"In the seventh and part of the eighth, I still wasn't having much fun," he said. "But to see it just continue and continue, and Brandon League got a couple of big outs for us, and when Tom came in, I think we were all pretty excited in here."

After Charlie Furbush recorded the first two outs, Pryor earned his first major league win in a no-hitter -- how many people can say that? -- by retiring one batter in the top of the seventh. After Seattle took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh, Pryor promptly walked the first two batters in the eighth.

Out went Pryor, and in came rookie Lucas Luetge, who retired the only batter he faced on a sacrifice bunt. That brought in League, who has pitched so poorly this year that he lost the closer role last week. This time, he bailed his team out of a second-and-third, one-out mess.

Then Wilhelmsen came in to pitch the ninth. Three years ago, Wilhelmsen was a bartender in Tucson, Ariz., who had been out of baseball for five seasons. He was moved into the closer role so recently that he earned his first save last week and still hasn't asked for special walk-up music. But he pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to complete the second six-pitcher no-hitter in major league history.

Of course, the no-hitter didn't register for Wilhelmsen until Montero took a running start to leap into his arms.

"I was so just in tune to getting the out and getting the W that for a moment I forgot to relax and accept this no-hitter," Wilhelmsen said. "Once he was up and excited, it turned my buttons a little bit."

Defense is not considered Montero's strong suit -- he has been a designated hitter more often than he has been behind the plate this year -- but the rookie can boast that he helped guide six pitchers to a no-hitter. "At my age, 22 years old, that was my dream, to catch a no-hitter," Montero said. "Thank God I had it. I was praying. I was praying behind the plate. I wanted those guys to hit a ground ball so we could have a no-hitter. And then we got it."

And now that they had it, the question was what to do. After all, how do you divide up a game ball for six pitchers?

"I don't know the protocol on that," Wilhelmsen said. "Do I keep it? Do I give it to Millwood? Do I give it to the team? Does it belong in the clubhouse?"

"I hope we've got a bunch of them so we can all have at least one," Millwood said. "I don't know who gets it, but it's not going to be me. One of those guys deserves it more than me. Like I said, the first six [innings], we've seen that done a lot of times, but getting those last nine outs is a lot tougher."

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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