DETROIT -- Charlie Furbush had plenty of time to imagine how his first chance in the Major Leagues might play out, basically ever since he was a kid. The way Monday night unfolded, the 3 2/3 scoreless innings, the 6-3 win over the Rays, wasn't anywhere on the list.
He didn't have a chance to think about it. All he could do was react.
"Sometimes," manager Jim Leyland said, "that's a good thing."
It wasn't a turn in the rotation, or a mop-up appearance out of the bullpen. It was a point from Leyland as starter Phil Coke limped around the mound, a 1-0 game with the American League East leaders looking at a new kid on the mound and looking to pounce.
"When I was running in, I was like, 'OK, this is it. This is everything I've been working for,'" Furbush said. "I couldn't have been more excited."
Once his outing and the Tigers' win were complete, the reactions came from his teammates. Sitting in his locker was a bottle of champagne, courtesy of Justin Verlander. He'd been doused with other beverages earlier.
Sitting a few spots down in the Tigers clubhouse was Coke, who was having his foot checked out while Furbush was holding down the Rays.
"[Ben] Zobrist lays down a bunt and the carpet gave out on me," Coke said. "Apparently Furbush needed to get his outing in. Apparently it was a good idea that he did. I'm really excited for him. He threw really well."
Six years ago, Furbush was a small-college pitcher in Maine, not sure whether he had a future in baseball or in athletic administration. Four years ago, he was a Tigers draft pick after a difficult transfer season at LSU. Thirteen months ago, he was a 24-year-old repeating at Class A Lakeland, pondering his future.
A high-strikeout season, 183 of them over 159 innings at three different organizational levels, became the springboard that put him on the cusp of the big leagues. A locked-up elbow from long reliever Brad Thomas helped Furbush get the call Saturday from Triple-A Toledo, where he was leading the International League in strikeouts.
Once he took the mound on Monday, he went to what he knows.
"Changing speeds, using both sides of the plate, changing eye level," he said. "I tried to stick with the things that got me here."
In his case, that meant the strikeout. With two runners on and one out in a 1-0 game, he could use one.
Part of the deceptiveness with Furbush, Leyland explained, comes from his release. He uses his 6-foot-5 frame and long arms in his delivery so that he releases the ball far out ahead. His pitch has a little less distance to travel than others, and hitters have a little less time to react once he releases the ball.
"He's got real good stuff," Leyland said. "He's got live action. His fastball's sneaky, obviously. They hadn't seen it before. I think that helps."
None of the batters he faced in that fourth inning put the ball in play, and one can make the argument that he struck out the side. The only swing that even connected was a first-pitch foul from Sean Rodriguez, who fouled off Furbush's first Major League pitch.
His full-count delivery seemingly caught the strike zone at the knees on Rodriguez, but was ruled off the inside corner by home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook, loading the bases. From there, both Felipe Lopez and Kelly Shoppach went down swinging and missing at sliders. All three strikes on Shoppach, in fact, were swings and misses, and they were three different types of pitches -- fastball, cutter and curve.
"I just tried to use all my pitches tonight," Furbush said.
The stuff was impressive enough. The ability to command it all was crucial. His command of his nerves impressed Rays manager Joe Maddon.
"I liked his poise," Maddon said. "He threw strikes and had good breaking stuff, a good curveball-slider combination, velocity was 90-91. The thing in a situation like that, I'm looking at the poise and he had great poise."
Once Furbush found his rhythm, he started hitting the strike zone with a variety of pitches, including a slow curveball that left Rays hitters off-balance. He used that for back-to-back groundouts from Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez on his way to retiring the side after Johnny Damon's leadoff double in the sixth.
By then, Furbush was pitching with a tie game after former Mud Hens teammate Andy Dirks hit his first Major League home run leading off the bottom of the fifth. Once Furbush ended the Rays' sixth-inning threat, Brennan Boesch's two-out double extended the bottom of the inning for Miguel Cabrera to deliver a ground ball through the right side.
Boesch, who tested former Tiger Matt Joyce's arm on the double, did it again coming home on Cabrera's hit. Joyce's throw beat him, but Boesch eluded catcher Shoppach's tag to put the Tigers in front.
That rally put Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson (5-3) on the hook for the loss despite just four hits allowed over 6 1/3 innings.
Furbush's outing was the longest by a Tigers reliever in his Major League debut since Dave Haas in 1991. He became just the second Tigers pitcher since at least 1919 to win his Major League debut with at least that many innings of scoreless relief, joining Red Phillips from 1934, according to research on baseball-reference.com.
It wasn't quite what he imagined, but he'll take it.
"You try to picture what this day's going to be like, the first time up there," Furbush said. "It definitely wasn't in the big picture. I knew I was going to go out there and have fun."