Seattle Mariners fans can finally exhale. Their team has done it.
Thanks to a 2-1 win over the Oakland Athletics on Friday, the Mariners have clinched a spot in the 2022 MLB playoffs, ending a postseason drought going back 21 years. That span of time had been the longest active postseason drought in major North American sports.
The Mariners did it in style, via a walkoff home run from catcher Cal Raleigh.
While the Mariners' playoff spot is assured, their position is still up in the air. Seattle currently sits in the second wild-card slot, a half-game up on the Tampa Bay Rays and 1.5 games behind the Toronto Blue Jay.
The last time the Mariners made the playoffs was their record 116-win team in 2001, which ended with an ALCS loss to the New York Yankees. This team took a much different route to the postseason, but both were defined by an electric rookie.
How the Mariners ended their postseason drought
The Mariners' rise from the AL West basement has been a gradual process over the last four years, but still required a significant leap forward to finally play some real October baseball.
For years, the team's youth movement had looked promising. Big-time prospects like Julio Rodriguez, Jarred Kelenic, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby all made top 100 lists in 2020 or 2021, but that did not guarantee stardom.
Some of those young players turned out better than others. Kelenic may not have a future as a big-league starter after a brutal start to his career, but Rodriguez, Gilbert and Kirby are all seeing significant playing time with the MLB club and excelling, most of all Rodriguez.
The 21-year-old outfielder is a mortal lock to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award for a season in which he's hitting .280/.342/.502 with 27 homers, 25 RBI and solid defense in center field. That's future superstar stuff at that age, though Rodriguez is currently sidelined with a back injury.
Meanwhile, Gilbert and Kirby hold respective ERAs of 3.29 and 3.21 and are both 25 or younger. As strong as this season has been, the future is even brighter in Seattle.
The Mariners didn't make the playoffs with prospects alone, though. Like most teams that successfully exit a rebuilding phase, the team was also aggressive in free agency and on the trade market last offseason.
With players like J.P. Crawford, Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzalez already aboard, the team filled two holes in its lineup with a trade for Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez from the Cincinnati Reds and brought in reigning AL Cy Younger winner Robbie Ray on a five-year, $115 million deal. They doubled down midseason with a trade with the Reds, again, for starting pitcher Luis Castillo, who has since signed a five-year, $108 million deal.
However, the biggest revelation, aside from Rodriguez, might be first baseman Ty France. Acquired as a minor part of the trade that sent catcher Austin Nola to the San Diego Padres, France earned his first career All-Star nod this year and is currently hitting .276/.341/.444.
All of that adds up to the kind of rebuilding project most teams hope for when assembling their playbook. Keeping top prospects, leveraging prospect depth into MLB talent and developing quality starters wherever you can get them. It should also be noted the Mariners had a bit of a tailwind for making the playoffs this year thanks to the expansion to a third wild card.
Who has the longest postseason drought now?
The Mariners thankfully no longer have to worry about setting a postseason drought record, though they had a long way to go before capturing the St. Louis Browns' 41-season drought.
The title for longest postseason drought among MLB teams now belongs to the Philadelphia Phillies, who last made the playoffs in 2011 before their core of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee started showing its age.
However, the Phillies might not hold that title for long. They currently hold the third wild-card spot in the National League and are a half-game up on the Milwaukee Brewers. For now, though, here's what the list looks like:
1) Philadelphia Phillies, 11 years
t-2) Los Angeles Angels, 8 years
t-2) Detroit Tigers, 8 years
t-4) Kansas City Royals, 7 years
t-4) Pittsburgh Pirates, 7 years
As for the other major North American men's leagues, the longest droughts belong to the New York Jets in the NFL (11 years), Sacramento Kings in the NBA (16 years), Buffalo Sabres in the NHL (11 years).
Congrats to the Kings, we guess.