More than an hour after Cal Raleigh ended the longest playoff drought in baseball, he was back on the field with his teammates, circling the perimeter of the field to acknowledge the tens of thousands of fans. that still stayed.
The celebration was more akin to winning something big in October than a victory on the last day of September. But after 21 years, the Seattle Mariners could be excused for going a bit overboard in their return to the playoffs.
“It’s better than you could ever dream it would be,” Seattle coach Scott Servais said.
Raleigh hit a game-winning home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and the Mariners clinched an AL wild-card berth with a 2-1 win over the Oakland Athletics on Friday night.
Raleigh, pinch hitter for Luis Torrens, hit a 3-2 pitch from Domingo Acevedo (3-4) just inside the right-field foul pole for a solo home run that sent the Mariners to the postseason for the first time since 2001.
“I remember the moment when I knew it was fair and I looked at the team and everyone jumped. It was crazy,” Raleigh said.
Seattle’s on-field celebration lasted more than 10 minutes as fans and players shed the burden of two decades without seeing their baseball team’s playoffs.
That was just the beginning.
Nearly an hour later, and with the stands still mostly full, Servais and his team were back on the field after a wild celebration in the clubhouse. He took the microphone and colorfully reminded the crowd that when he joined President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto seven years ago, the mission was “to end the … drought.”
“We did it. These guys behind me are special. They care. They care about winning the right way. They care about representing the city of Seattle,” Servais told the crowd.
Indeed, it had been a long wait: The last time the Mariners advanced to the postseason, the team was led by rookie Ichiro Suzuki and Edgar Martinez and led by Lou Piniella.
As has been the case for most of this season with the Mariners, their 86th victory and the one that sent them back to the playoffs happened in the most stressful way possible. Seattle couldn’t figure out Oakland starter Ken Waldichuk and an assembly line of relievers for eight innings, limited only by Ty France’s double RBI that Dylan Moore scored two batters into the game.
Acevedo struck out Mitch Haniger and Carlos Santana to lead off the ninth, but Raleigh hit his 26th homer of the season, the most by a Seattle catcher.
“It’s not really a pressure moment,” Raleigh said. “We’re having fun. We’re playing baseball. That’s the way I look at it. And I think that’s the mindset you have to have.”
In addition to securing a postseason berth, Seattle remained a game and a half behind Toronto for the top wild card spot and a half game ahead of Tampa Bay as the three continue to compete for seeding.
But place in the standings didn’t matter tonight. It was about getting the final ticket to the American League and ending two decades without the guarantee of playoff baseball.
Seattle’s spot ended the longest active playoff drought in any of the four major professional sports, a dubious honor that now falls to the Sacramento Kings, who haven’t made the NBA playoffs since the 2005 season. 06. The Mariners remain the only current team that has never played in the World Series.
The last time the Mariners reached the postseason they tied a major league record by winning 116 games in the regular season, but lost to the Yankees 3-1 in the AL Championship Series.
Seattle’s Logan Gilbert pitched a career-high eight innings, allowing three hits. His only mistake was a home run by Shea Langeliers in the second inning.
Gilbert retired 18 of the last 20 batters he faced and put the A’s in order in each of his final four innings. Seth Brown walked leading the seventh but was retired on a double play.
Gilbert struck out four and walked off the mound after the eighth to a standing ovation and pleas from fans for him to run.
Matt Brash (4-4) struck out a pair in the ninth and set the stage for Raleigh.
“It was crazy. I mean, I haven’t been in Seattle for a few years, but I feel like I’m one of the fans that has waited for 21 years,” Gilbert said. “It was just the culmination of a lot of waiting.”