‘Big Dumper’ Cal Raleigh sends Mariners to walk-off victory, ending MLB’s longest playoff drought at 21 years

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Late Friday night (technically Saturday morning for East Coasters), Cal Raleigh delivered a hit 21 years in the making, sending the Mariners back to the playoffs—a place they haven’t been since Ichiro Suzuki debuted in 2001—with one mighty swing.

It’s been four presidents, seven Tom Brady Super Bowls and countless Marvel movies since Seattle last experienced the sweet taste of October baseball, with “lean years” quickly becoming “lean decades,” a maddening stretch for a team and fanbase starved for even the slightest relevance. Raleigh, who goes by the nickname “Big Dumper” (alluding, one would imagine, to his ample backside), did it in style, ending baseball’s longest playoff drought with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. On the seventh pitch of a pressure-packed at-bat, Raleigh finally broke through, punching the Mariners’ postseason ticket with a mammoth blast to deep right field, immediately sending the 44,754 fans at T-Mobile Park into a frenzy. Per Elias Sports Bureau, Raleigh is the first pinch-hitter in MLB history to clinch a playoff berth with a walk-off home run.

The Mariners, who finished two games out of the playoffs in 2021 (90-72 record), would seem to be the biggest beneficiary of MLB’s new postseason format, recently expanding the field from 10 to 12 teams. With their win Friday night, the Mariners officially eliminated the Orioles, who gave a valiant effort, becoming the first team in over a century to finish .500 or better a season after losing 110 games.

Between Seattle conquering its longstanding playoff demons, Aaron Judge’s pursuit of history (in a contract year, no less), Albert Pujols reaching another career milestone with his 700th home run and Shohei Ohtani doing his best Babe Ruth impression as arguably the greatest pitcher/slugger hybrid we’ve ever seen, it’s been a season for the ages, reminding us that baseball, despite losing ground to football and basketball in America’s sports consciousness, still has plenty of juice.

With the Mariners completing their redemption arc Friday night, MLB’s longest postseason drought now belongs to the Phillies, who last reached the playoffs in 2011. The Phillies, as recently as two weeks ago, looked like a shoo-in to end their 11-year dry spell, though a recent slump suddenly has them fighting for their playoff lives, leading Milwaukee by just a half-game for the NL’s final Wild Card berth.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Steph Chambers, Getty Images