For the first time since 2001, the Seattle Mariners are a playoff team. They punched their ticket to the 2022 MLB playoffs with a 2-1 walk-off victory over the Oakland A's Friday night. Catcher Cal Raleigh delivered the game-winning home run in the ninth, breaking a 1-1 tie. Take a look:
This snaps the longest playoff drought in men's North American professional sports. The NBA's Sacramento Kings take over the mantle, as they haven't made the playoffs since 2006. As for MLB, the Phillies (2011) have grabbed the lead, though perhaps that is temporary. They have a half-game lead for the final NL playoff spot. Should they make the playoffs, the dubious distinction of longest playoff drought moves to the Angels (2014).
Much of the focus is on the drought and will continue to be, but let's also credit the team that broke it.
Wunderkind center fielder Julio Rodríguez was an All-Star in his age-21 season and will win AL Rookie of the Year in addition to getting some down-ballot MVP love. He's hitting .280 with a 144 OPS+, 27 homers, 25 stolen bases and 5.7 WAR in 129 games. Those are superstar numbers already. He's currently injured but will very likely return before the playoffs.
Joining him on an inconsistent offense capable of home run barrages are Eugenio Suárez (31 homers), Cal Raleigh (26) and Carlos Santana (15 homers in just 73 games). Ty France had a huge start to the season and we know what players like Jesse Winker and Mitch Haniger can do when they are going well. The offense can look helpless for stretches, but if they get everyone going in the playoffs, a run is possible with the pitching they have.
Speaking of, Luis Castillo and Robbie Ray give the Mariners two established, frontline starters for a playoff rotation in front of youngsters Logan Gilbert -- who threw very well Friday in the clincher -- and George Kirby. In the bullpen, Seattle has had a strong core of late-inning relievers much of the season, getting great work from the likes of Paul Sewald, Penn Murfee, Andrés Muñoz and Erik Swanson.
The drought will obviously get the headlines as it has been a relatively long time. That 2001 Mariners team won a record-tying 116 games. It had Edgar Martinez, Mike Cameron and John Olerud. Jamie Moyer was in the rotation and he was still under 40! Bret Boone had a monster season with 37 homers and 141 RBI. The Mariners had the AL MVP, too, and it was Ichiro Suzuki. He might be the best way to place this in our consciousness in terms of how long ago it was, because Ichiro was a rookie that year.
In the years since, there have been some awful seasons (101 losses in 2008 and 2010) and some tease jobs (2018 stands out). They won 90 games last year and were still left out in the cold.
What stands out most this season, on the team level, would be the 14-game winning streak heading into the All-Star break. It included series sweeps over the Blue Jays and Padres, showing that this team is capable of making a deep run in the playoffs if everything breaks right at the right time.
For now, just making the playoffs is a huge accomplishment and worth celebration. After all, they haven't been able to celebrate it in over two decades.