SEATTLE – After 21 long years of frustration and failures, of close calls and coming up just short, of spring trainings filled with hope and offseasons spent with regret, of entire careers without champagne celebration for King Felix and Kyle Seager, of so much change, including three general managers, eight managers and two interim managers, of hundreds of players, who were good, bad or Chone Figgins, of “Believe Big” to “True to the Blue” to “Sea Us Rise,” the Seattle Mariners are finally returning to the playoffs.
With an aching sore thumb that he’s tried to play through for the past few weeks and kept him out of the starting lineup on Friday night despite his protests, catcher Cal Raleigh came in to pinch hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game.
After flailing at a 3-1 slider and fouling off another slider from right-hander Domingo Acevedo, Raleigh didn’t miss the third straight slider that stayed over the middle.
He launched a majestic fly ball deep into the night. As it climbed toward the right-field stands, his teammates and 44,754 rose in anticipation for jubilation. The ball smacked off the windows of the Hit It Here Cafe and turned T-Mobile Park into joyous bedlam as the Mariners won 2-1.
“The moment I knew it was fair, I just looked at the dugout and everyone was jumping up and down,” Raleigh said. “It’s not really a pressure moment. We’re having fun and playing baseball. That’s they way you have to look at it.”
As Raleigh rounded the bases, the sold-out crowd celebrated with hugs .
“The fact that we’re in our ballpark and there’s 40,000 people here tonight it’s better than maybe what you can even dream it could be,” M’s manager Scott Servais said. “We have a lot of baseball yet ahead of us. We did end the drought tonight, which is a very special feeling. There’s so many kids that grew up in the Pacific Northwest that don’t know anything about the Mariners being in the playoffs, and now we get to show them.”
In the bedlam, Jerry Dipoto, Mariners president of baseball operations, hugged Servais, the manager he picked to lead this team after being hired before the 2016 season. Their journey hasn’t been simple. It’s included a whirlwind of roster moves and countless changes to the organization, including a rebuilding plan after the 2019 season.
“We’ve waited a long time,” Dipoto said. “We worked hard. Everybody contributed in so many ways, from ideas to the work they put into the performance on the field. And we deserve this moment.”
When the 2001 Mariners, winners of a Major League Baseball-record 116 games, lost to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, a return to the postseason felt like an inevitability if not a near every-year possibility. Instead, a fan base that first tasted the postseason with the “My Oh My” magic of Ken Griffey Jr. scoring from first on Edgar Martinez’s double to left in the Kingdome, celebrated postseason appearances again in 1997 and 2000 and felt unfulfilled in the failure of 2001 waited for years in disappointment and frustration, 21 to be exact, for a return to the postseason that never came despite promises and posturing.
Three months into a 2022 season filled with expectations of making the postseason, the Mariners seemed destined to push the drought to 22 years.
On June 19, they were shut out for a second straight game by the Angels, losing 4-0 to finish an awful homestand. They were 29-39 and listing toward another long summer of baseball irrelevance.
But led by a strong starting rotation and a stingy bullpen and energized by 21-year-old rookie Julio Rodriguez, whose mixture of talent and charisma has captured an entire fan base, the Mariners reeled off a turnaround that included a 14-game winning streak going into the All-Star break. On Sept. 11, after taking two of three games from the defending World Series champion Braves at T-Mobile Park, the Mariners were 79-61. They had gone from 10 games under .500 to 18 games over .500 in a span of 72 games.
By earning one of three American League wild-card spots in the expanded MLB playoffs, the Mariners ended the longest active drought in North American major professional sports. The weight of that unwanted distinction, which they inherited on Jan. 2, 2018, when the Buffalo Bills made the NFL playoffs, accumulated from an annoyance to a burden.
But instead of finding ways to excuse themselves from the drought, Mitch Haniger, Marco Gonzales and J.P. Crawford embraced the weight of all those seasons lost and expectations unmet.
They made it their own to shoulder and carry, knowing how gratifying it would be when they ended the streak themselves and celebrated with a city they would own.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.