Cal Raleigh was out on the field with his teammates more than an hour after ending baseball’s longest postseason drought, rounding the field’s edge to thank the tens of thousands of spectators who persisted.
The jubilation resembled a victory in October more than it did a triumph on the last day of September. On their return to the playoffs after 21 years, the Seattle Mariners, though, may be forgiven for going a bit overboard.
“It’s better than maybe what you could dream it to be,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said.
The Mariners defeated the Oakland Athletics 2-1 on Friday night to claim a spot in the American League’s wild-card round. Raleigh blasted the game-winning home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Raleigh, filling in for Luis Torrens at the plate, singled off Domingo Acevedo (3-4) barely inside the right-field foul pole to give the Mariners their first postseason berth since 2001.
“I can still picture the team jumping and me realizing it was fair at that precise time. It was simply insane “said Raleigh.
Seattle’s jubilation on the field extended for more than 10 minutes as players and supporters eased the weight of having endured 20 years without seeing their baseball club make the playoffs.
That was just the start.
Nearly an hour later, and with the stands still mostly full, Servais and his team were back on the field after a wild clubhouse celebration. He grabbed the microphone and reminded the crowd, colorfully, that when he arrived along with president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto seven years ago, the mission was to end the “drought.”
“We did it. These players 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.
The previous time the Mariners reached the postseason, they were headed by rookies Ichiro Suzuki and Edgar Martinez, under the direction of manager Lou Piniella. It had truly been a long wait.
The Mariners’ 86th victory, which returned them to the playoffs, occurred in the most tense manner imaginable, as has been the case for the most of this season. For eight innings, Seattle was powerless against Oakland starter Ken Waldichuk and a long line of relievers, with Ty France’s RBI double bringing Dylan Moore home two hitters in the game as their sole relief.
For the first out of the ninth, Acevedo retired Mitch Haniger and Carlos Santana, then Raleigh delivered his 26th home run of the year, the most by a Seattle catcher in history.
“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 mentality you got to have.”
Aside from the clinching a spot in the postseason, Seattle stayed 1½ games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the top wild-card spot and one half-game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays as the three continue to jockey for seeding.
But the place in the standings didn’t matter on this night. It was all about punching the final AL ticket and ending two decades without the guarantee of playoff baseball.
Seattle’s berth 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 have not made the NBA playoffs since the 2005-06 season. The Mariners are still the only current team never to have 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 New York Yankees 3-1 in the AL Championship Series.
Seattle’s Logan Gilbert threw 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 final 20 batters he faced and set down the A’s in order in each of his final four innings. Seth Brown walked leading of 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 the plea from fans for a 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 but a few years but I feel like I’m one of the fans that have waited for 21 years,” Gilbert said. “It was just a culmination of a lot of waiting.”