2012-06-22 / Community

South Portland native stands out in big leagues

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

South Portland native Charlie Furbush was one of six pitchers who combined to record a no-hitter for the Seattle Mariners on June 8. The Mariners are one of five MLB teams to pitch a no-hitter this year. (photo courtesy of the Seattle Mariners) South Portland native Charlie Furbush was one of six pitchers who combined to record a no-hitter for the Seattle Mariners on June 8. The Mariners are one of five MLB teams to pitch a no-hitter this year. (photo courtesy of the Seattle Mariners) The box score for Seattle Mariners’ pitcher Charlie Furbush from his Friday, June 8 appearance is not impressive on its own. Furbush entered the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at the beginning of the seventh inning. The 26-year-old lefty struck out one batter, got another to fly out, and made an error that allowed a hitter to reach second base.

But at the end of the Mariners’ 1-0 victory, the South Portland native was a part of history.

Furbush was one of six pitchers who combined to no-hit the Dodgers that night, tying a Major League Baseball record for most pitchers ever involved in a nohitter. It was the 10th time in baseball history the feat has been accomplished by more than one pitcher in a game.

Generally, baseball managers will not replace a pitcher who has not allowed a hit, but after Mariners starter Kevin Millwood cruised through six innings of work, he abruptly left the game after one warm-up toss in the seventh.

“We didn’t really know what happened in the bullpen,” Furbush said. “We thought maybe he had a blister on his finger or something, then we found out later he had a mild strain in his groin.”

It wasn’t the first time Furbush had to come into a game on short notice. In fact, when he made his major league debut for the Detroit Tigers last season, it was in relief of another injured starter.

When Detroit starter Phil Coke hurt his ankle with one out in the fourth inning of a May 23 game, Furbush pitched through the seventh to earn his first big league win.

Furbush said before Millwood was pulled, the bullpen knew a no-hitter hung in the balance. Baseball players are notoriously superstitious, and the pitchers made a point to purposefully avoid talking about the no-hitter to avoid jinxing Millwood. But for Furbush, that all went out the window when the starter left the game.

“In my head, when I went in, the only thing I was worried about was keeping the team in the game,” Furbush said.

Furbush’s high school baseball coach at South Portland High School, Tony DiBiase, said the pitcher’s mindset is a major reason Furbush has found so much success.

“His demeanor has not changed from high school,” said DiBiase, who is the head basketball coach at Scarborough High School. “A lot of talented kids sign up, but the mental part is where they kind of fall short. Charlie has a perfect mental makeup to make it in the major leagues. He’s on the same wavelength whether he gives up a home run or a strikeout or he pitches a one-hitter or whatever. He did that in high school, college, and I saw the same thing even to the major leagues.”

After Furbush was taken out of the eventual no-hitter, the parade of Mariners’ bullpen arms continued. Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League and, finally, Tom Wilhelmson combined to record the final seven outs and complete the first combined no-hitter since six Houston Astros pitchers nohit the New York Yankees in 2003.

“We’re all going to remember that for the rest of our lives. It didn’t really hit us until the next day, when we saw all the highlights and what we accomplished together. We’ll probably stay pretty close knowing that,” Furbush said.

Generally, the pitcher who throws a no-hitter keeps a game ball and sends another off to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. But in this case, Furbush said the team “grabbed as many balls as they could” so each pitcher involved could remember the moment, while a ball signed by all six pitchers was sent to the Cooperstown.

The no-hitter will certainly be a highlight of this season for Furbush. But the former Red Riot has been very effective for the Mariners out of the bullpen all season.

After coming to the team from the Detroit Tigers at last year’s trading deadline, Furbish initially struggled. He posted a 3-7 record with a 6.62 ERA in 10 starts with the Mariners last season. This year, he has made 21 appearances out of the bullpen and his ERA is currently 2.78.

Furbush said the move to the new team and to the bullpen have helped him succeed, but mostly he has improved simply by becoming more familiar with the major league game.

“I’m a big believer in experience. My experience last year taught me a lot about what it’s like day in and day out. I try to use every experience as a learning one, learn what works, make sure I don’t forget the things that got me here and the things that made me successful,” Furbush said.

DiBiase said he saw Furbush’s ability to learn from his mistakes and improve when the pitcher was in high school.

“His first three years were kind of up and down” DiBiase said. “He had great stuff but he never really put it together until his senior year,” when the coach said Furbush’s skills “blossomed.”

Furbush didn’t attract much attention from powerhouse collegiate baseball programs after high school because of his late development. After he graduated in 2004, he spent two years at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, where he continued to excel, posting a combined 17-2 record with a 2.38 ERA in two seasons with the Monks.

From there, it was on to Louisiana State University, then professional ball. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2007 MLB draft by the Tigers.

DiBiase said the pitcher’s story can serve as a lesson to aspiring young players from the state of Maine.

“As long as they stay with it and understand that if they don’t do it in their sophomore or junior years, it doesn’t mean that they can’t make it. It’s a great tribute to him, but also it gives hope to kids in the state. Baseball is a mechanism to achieve greatness.”

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