Mariners’ 21-year playoff wait ends on Raleigh’s walk-off HR

SEATTLE (AP) — More than an hour after Cal Raleigh ended baseball’s longest playoff drought, he was back on the field with his teammates, circling the edge of the field to pay tribute to the tens of thousands of fans who are still there were.

The celebration was more like a victory in October than a victory on the last day of September. But after 21 years, the Seattle Mariners could be excused if they overdid it a little in their return to the playoffs.

“It’s better than maybe what you dream of,” said Seattle coach Scott Servais.

Raleigh hit a game-winning home run with two outs at the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Mariners secured an American League wildcard berth with a 2-1 win over the Oakland Athletics on Friday night.

Raleigh, who hit Luis Torrens, hit a 3-2 pitch from Domingo Acevedo (3-4) just inside the foul pole in right field for a solo homer that sent the Mariners into the postseason for the first time since 2001.

“I remember the moment when I knew it was fair and when I looked at the team and all the jumps. It was just crazy,” Raleigh said.

Seattle’s on-field celebration lasted more than 10 minutes as fans and players relieved themselves of the burden of two decades without seeing their baseball team’s playoffs.

Almost an hour later, and 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 seven years ago alongside Jerry Dipoto, baseball’s president of operations, the mission was to “end the . . . drought.”

“We did it. Those 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.

It had been a long time indeed — the last time the Mariners advanced into the postseason, the team was led by rookie Ichiro Suzuki and Edgar Martinez and managed by Lou Piniella.

Like most of this season with the Mariners, their 86th win and the one that sent them back to the playoffs was in the most stressful way possible. Seattle was unable to untie Oakland starter Ken Waldichuk and a conveyor belt of assists for eight innings, only holding against Ty Frances RBI double that put two batters in play for Dylan Moore.

Acevedo defeated Mitch Haniger and Carlos Santana to open ninth place, but Raleigh prevailed on his 26th home run of the season, the highest by a Seattle catcher to date.

“It’s not really a pressure moment,” Raleigh said. “We’re having fun. We’re playing baseball. That’s how I see it. And I think that’s the mentality you have to have.”

Aside from earning a spot in the postseason, Seattle remained 1 1/2 games behind Toronto for the best wildcard spot and a half game ahead of Tampa Bay as the three continue to battle for seeding.

But this evening it was not about the place in the table. It was about cracking the last AL ticket and ending two decades without a guarantee of playoff baseball.

Seattle’s berth ended the longest active playoff drought in any of the big four pro 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 that has never played in the World Series.

The last time the Mariners reached the postseason, they set a major league record with 116 regular-season wins, but lost 3-1 to the Yankees in the AL Championship Series.

Seattle’s Logan Gilbert threw a career-high eight innings and allowed 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 down the A’s in order in each of his last four innings. Seth Brown led in seventh place but was eliminated due to a double play.

Gilbert batted out a four and exited the mound after the eighth to a standing ovation and requests from fans for a run.

Matt Brash (4-4) hit a pair in the ninth and set the stage for Raleigh.

“It’s been crazy. I mean, I’ve only been in Seattle a few years, but I feel like I’m one of those fans who’ve waited 21 years,” Gilbert said. “It was just a culmination of a lot of waiting. “

Mariners: OF Julio Rodríguez remains on course to return on Monday if he can be left off the injury list due to a lower back strain. Rodriguez continued to ramp up his baseball activity Friday, manager Scott Servais said.

The Seattle chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America presented their year-end awards before the game. Rodríguez was voted Player of the Year. Gilbert was voted pitcher of the year. And Eugenio Suárez received the Unsung Award for his performance on the field and leadership in the clubhouse.

Athletics: LHP JP Sears (6-3, 4.22) starts for his 12th time this season and ninth since joining the A. Sears is batted 3-3 with a 5.36 ERA in his starts with Oakland but the Mariners on September 20, allowing an unmerited run in five innings.

Mariners: RHP Luis Castillo (7-6, 3.06) looking to bounce back from two underperforming starts. Castillo allowed four runs in 4 2/3 innings in a loss to Oakland on September 20 and gave up five earned runs in his last start against Kansas City. Mariners’ 21-year playoff wait ends on Raleigh’s walk-off HR

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