KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Standing in a tunnel outside the visitors’ clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium, Cal Raleigh was losing patience.
Quickly and quietly, he had already answered a half-dozen questions about his late heroics in the Mariners’ 6-5 comeback victory over the Royals when he peeked through an open door into a raucous clubhouse.
“All right, guys,” Raleigh said, already walking towards the open door. “I’m gonna go.”
The celebration grew louder after Raleigh entered the clubhouse, and why wouldn’t it?
Where would the Seattle Mariners be without Raleigh?
In what was supposed to be a day off to rest his battered left thumb, Raleigh came off the bench and came through with two of the most important hits of the season for the Mariners. That’s not hyperbole. This was a must-have win for a team trying to close out a brutal road trip with some positive momentum in this playoff chase, and Raleigh provided it.
“For us to get a win tonight and gut it out was huge,” Raleigh said.
The young catcher hit the tying, two-run home run in the sixth inning to deep right field and then had the game-winning double off the wall in left field, scoring Jarred Kelenic for the decisive run in the top of the ninth inning.
“He does make it look easy,” shortstop JP Crawford said. “He’s having such a great year. I’m so happy for him. If he doesn’t come in and do that, we probably wouldn’t be here right now. He really saved the day.”
Trailing 5-3 after five innings, the Mariners rallied on a night that could prove pivotal in their playoff push.
About 15 minutes after Andrés Muñoz closed things out for the Mariners in the bottom of the ninth, the Houston Astros rallied for four runs in the top of the ninth in their game in Baltimore.
A group of Mariners players and coaches huddled around a TV in the clubhouse to watch the Astros hold on for an 11-10 victory, extending the Mariners’ lead to four games — plus the tiebreaker — over Baltimore (79-72) for the final. playoff spot in the American League.
With 11 games remaining, the magic number for the Mariners (83-68) to clinch a playoff berth is down to seven.
“They’re all important this time of year,” manager Scott Servais said. “It’s been a rough road trip for us with the injuries. We haven’t done a lot offensively. I just thought we made some big plays by some young players that were huge for us and huge for their confidence going forward.”
With one out in the top of the ninth, Kelenic beat out an infield single on a hard ground ball up the middle.
Jesse Winker followed with a single, putting runners on first and second for Raleigh to bat from his favored left side. Because of his injured left thumb, the switch-hitting Raleigh has not been as comfortable hitting from the right side.
On a 1-1 pitch from Royals reliever Brad Keller, Raleigh drove a pitch off the top of the left wall. Kelenic scored from the second to make it 6-5.
“That is a long way to hit that ball to the opposite field in this ballpark,” Servais said. “That’s a home run probably in every other ballpark.”
Winker, pinch-hitting for Luis Torrens to start the sixth inning, singled sharply to center field off Royals right-handed reliever Collin Snider.
Raleigh was called on to pinch hit for Curt Casali. On a 2-1 pitch from Snider, Raleigh turned on a slider in the middle of the plate and sent it out to right field, 112 mph off the bat and 444 feet from the plate, to tie the score at 5-5.
It was Raleigh’s 25th homer of the season, the most among all MLB catchers.
“He left it up a little bit and I drove it,” Raleigh said.
The Mariners couldn’t capitalize on two bases-loaded opportunities late in the game to break a 5-5 tie.
With the bases loaded and no outs in the top of the sixth inning, the Mariners couldn’t push across a single run off Royals reliever Carlos Hernandez.
Carlos Santana popped out to foul territory for the first out. Adam Frazier popped out for the second out. Sam Haggerty struck out swinging at a splitter for the final out.
With the score still tied, the Mariners loaded the bases again in the eighth inning, with one out. Again they couldn’t capitalize, as Royals reliever Brad Keller got Frazier to ground into a 4-3 inning-ending double play.
It’s been that kind of trip for the Mariners. Still, Crawford insisted the team has not panicked.
“We’re fine. We’re in a good spot. We all know that here,” Crawford said. “You know, social media might not think so… but we’re in a good place here, mentally and physically. So we’re fine. We’re not pressing at all. We’re in a good spot here in the clubhouse.”
Logan Gilbert, in one of his worst starts of the season, was rocked for five runs on seven hits.
Gilbert had been dominant for the Mariners over the past month, allowing just two total runs in four September starts, with a 0.78 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 23 innings pitched.
He hadn’t allowed a home run in his previous 41.1 innings, dating back to an Aug. 8 losses to the Yankees.
That quickly changed when Gilbert left a hanging curveball over the plate to the Royals’ cleanup hitter, left-hander Vinnie Pasquantino, in the first inning. Pasquantino crushed it deep to right field, 432 feet, for a two-run home run.
It was obvious from the beginning that Gilbert did not have his best stuff. The Royals built a 5-3 lead through four innings, and seven of the first 15 batted balls the Royals put in play were “hard” hits of 95 mph or greater.
“I was just trying to find a way,” Gilbert said. “It didn’t feel perfect, obviously. But I’m trying to find a way to keep us in it. A ton of credit to the bullpen for holding it down after that. And to the offense for coming back. It was huge when we needed a win. I wasn’t able to put up my best stuff, but they picked me up big time.”