The Seattle Mariners might have a few bleary-eyed players, and even some coaches, when they take on the visiting Oakland Athletics on Saturday afternoon.
The Mariners (86-70) put an end to a 20-season playoff drought with a 2-1 victory against the A’s on Friday night. Pinch hitter Cal Raleigh socked a tiebreaking, game-ending homer on a 3-2 count with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning off the windows of the Hit It Here Cafe on the second deck in right field.
The lasting image of the Mariners snapping their drought might be Raleigh being mobbed by teammates shortly after crossing the plate, with someone having substituted his batting helmet with an empty bucket of Dubble Bubble chewing gum overturned on his head.
“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 the way you have to look at it.”
That sparked a raucous celebration among a sellout crowd at T-Mobile Park. The fans didn’t want to seem to leave, as the Mariners returned to the field nearly 45 minutes after the game ended, with manager Scott Servais addressing those still at the ballpark.
“The fact that we’re in our ballpark and there’s 40,000 people here … it’s better than maybe what you can even dream it could be,” 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 aftermath, Servais got a hug from general manager Jerry Dipoto, who hired Servais seven seasons ago and was the architect of the team’s “step-back plan” after an aging roster failed to reach the playoffs in the late 2010s.
“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.”
Servais has said the Mariners won’t be satisfied with the second or third wild-card berths, which would put them on the road for the first round of the playoffs. They want to move past the Toronto Blue Jays (88-69), who are two games ahead of Seattle, to be able to play in front of their home crowd.
The Mariners are a half-game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays (86-71), who also clinched a playoff spot on Friday.
Mariners right-hander Logan Gilbert went a career-high eight innings on Friday, putting up zero after zero after Oakland’s Shea Langeliers tied the score with a solo homer in the second inning.
Despite five strong innings from rookie left-hander Ken Waldichuk, the A’s (56-101) took their fifth consecutive defeat.
“I thought our team played great baseball against a playoff-contending team,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “You know, this team … we’ve battled all year. Unfortunate way for us to finish the game, but it was a great baseball game.”
A’s rookie lefty JP Sears (6-3, 4.22 ERA) is scheduled to start Saturday against Mariners right-hander Luis Castillo (7-6, 3.06).
Sears is 2-0 with an 0.90 ERA in two starts against Seattle. However, he struggled in his most recent outing, allowing six runs on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings during a 13-4 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday.
Castillo is 0-2 with a 7.45 ERA in two career starts vs. Oakland, both this year. He got a no-decision on Sunday after yielding five runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Kansas City Royals.