Mariners hit walk-off home run to finally end longest playoff drought in American sports

By Sports Desk September 30, 2022

The wait is finally over: the Seattle Mariners are returning to the MLB playoffs after 21 years in the wilderness.

The Mariners had been enduring the worst active postseason drought not just in baseball, but in any of the four major sports in the United States.

So desperate had this sequence of failure been, all but one of Seattle's MLB rivals – the Cincinnati Reds – had also won a playoff series since the Mariners' 2001 run.

It would have been difficult to imagine at the end of that 2001 season the Mariners would not be back in the postseason until 2022; Seattle finished with a 116-46 record, setting a new American League benchmark for wins in a single season and matching the all-time MLB high.

But now, after a late-season wobble prompted fears of a repeat of last year's agony when the M's finished two games back in the Wild Card race, the drought is over.

Seattle had lost eight of their previous 11 games before beating the Texas Rangers on both Wednesday and Thursday – results that, combined with back-to-back defeats for the Baltimore Orioles, left the Mariners only one game away heading into Friday.

Either defeat for the Orioles at the New York Yankees or victory for the Mariners over the Oakland Athletics would do, and after the Orioles briefly kept their season alive, the Mariners got the job done in the most storybook fashion imaginable.

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Cal Raleigh hit a walk-off home run to win 2-1 and send the Seattle fans into raptures as a 21-year weight was lifted off their shoulders.

Seattle happily fell well short of the all-time record for most consecutive seasons missing the playoffs, held by the St Louis Browns between 1903 and 1943 – but there are still several miserable streaks for the Mariners to snap.

They remain the only team in the major leagues never to have been to a World Series, with this their 45th season, while the Houston Astros' dominance in the AL West means Seattle's wait for a first division title since 2001 will go on.

That is the worst run in the AL, but three NL teams – the Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates – will this year see their division droughts reach 29 years.

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    Zlatko Dalic stressed that staying disciplined will be crucial if Croatia are to defeat Japan and reach the World Cup quarter-finals.

    Croatia, runners-up in Group F behind Morocco, face Japan on Monday in the last 16.

    Japan were the shock victors of Group E in Qatar, having claimed 2-1 victories over Germany and Spain either side of a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica.

    Runners-up to France in 2018, Croatia have only lost two of their eight knockout stage games at the World Cup (W4 D2), while Japan have never progressed beyond the last 16.

    Hajime Moriyasu's team have shown their quality against top sides, however, and Dalic knows his team must stay regimented if they are to avoid an upset.

    "Spain might have thought it was going to be easier, but Japan are a team that do not quit, as they showed against Germany as well," Dalic told reporters.

    "At some point, when Costa Rica were leading against Germany, Spain were out of the tournament, so they couldn't allow themselves to lose. Japan deserved to win.

    "Before the group stage, if we could choose an opponent in the next round, some people may have said Japan, but after seeing them beat Germany and Spain, they are anything but an easier opponent.

    "If you are first in a group with Germany and Spain, it shows your quality and that you are playing at a really high level. What I would say about the Japanese team is that they never quit. They conceded goals at the beginning of the match both against Germany and Spain, but they came back.

    "They had a lot of faith in themselves, and that is a great virtue of the Japan national team. For us, it will be key that we are also disciplined and patient. We cannot make mistakes, because Japan has the quality to punish those mistakes. We need to be good at falling back if we lose the ball."

    Croatia might have progressed from a group that also included Belgium and Canada, but failed to score in two of their matches – they had only drawn a blank in two of 13 matches at the tournament in the 2006, 2014 and 2018 editions combined.

    Dalic's side like to control possession, but that could play into Japan's hands. They averaged just 32.3 per cent of the ball across their three group stage games. Indeed, their two wins over Spain and Germany came with 17.7 per cent and 26.1 per cent possession respectively, while the one match they lost came when they had more of the ball against Costa Rica (56.8 per cent).

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Japan – Ritsu Doan

    Three of Japan's four goals scored have been scored by substitutes. Ritsu Doan has netted two of these. 

    Only three players have ever scored at least three goals as a substitute at a single World Cup – Andre Schurrle in 2014 (three), Roger Milla in 1990 (four), and Laszlo Kiss in 1982 (three).

    Croatia – Ivan Perisic

    Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric run the midfield for Croatia, but their attack is not quite as world-class.

    That being said, in Ivan Perisic they have a wide player more than capable of chipping in. The 33-year-old has scored nine goals at major tournaments, which is a joint record for Croatia along with Davor Suker.

    Perisic has also set up seven goals at either the Euros or the World Cup, a national record, and no Croatia player has had more shots so far in Qatar than his tally of five.

    PREDICTION

    This will be the third World Cup meeting between Japan and Croatia, with Japan winless and goalless in the previous two – a 1-0 defeat in 1998 and a goalless draw in 2006, both in the group stage. 

    Opta's model says the odds are against Japan, who are given a 26 per cent chance of progressing to the last eight. Croatia are the favourites (46.1 per cent).

    Do not be surprised to see this one go to extra-time, though – the draw is ranked at a 27.9 per cent chance.

  • Messi primed for World Cup glory after 'liberating' Copa America triumph, says Aguero Messi primed for World Cup glory after 'liberating' Copa America triumph, says Aguero

    Lionel Messi was liberated by winning last year's Copa America and is relishing his leading role in Argentina's World Cup bid, according to former team-mate Sergio Aguero.

    Messi scored his ninth World Cup goal – and his first in a knockout tie – as Argentina claimed a 2-1 victory over Australia on Saturday, teeing up a quarter-final meeting with the Netherlands.

    The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner's strike, a trademark left-footed finish after cutting inside from the right, also saw him surpass Diego Maradona's tally of eight World Cup goals for Argentina. Only Gabriel Batistuta (10) now has more for the country.

    Messi highlighted his "beautiful" bond with Argentina's supporters after the win, but Aguero believes that is a recent development, one which came about as a result of the Albiceleste ending a 28-year wait to win the Copa America last July.

    "Leo is going to do everything possible to achieve the goal that we all want," the former Argentina international told ESPN. 

    "Leo is happy and content. The Copa America changed his life, it gave him life. After the Copa America, he was happy again in the national team, like when we were in the under-20s.

    "He lived with criticism and lost finals for a long time. The Copa America was liberating for him."

    Prior to Argentina's triumph over hosts Brazil last year, Messi had suffered the ignominy of losing four major international finals, failing to help his team over the line at the 2014 World Cup or the 2007, 2015 and 2016 editions of the Copa America.

    Recalling that victory in Rio de Janeiro, Aguero said Brazil – who could meet Argentina in the World Cup semi-finals – would not relish a rematch.

    "If we made it to the quarter-finals, let me be excited," Aguero said. "Do you think that Brazil wants to meet Argentina in the semi-finals? 

    "Brazil has just lost the Copa America final, I think they don't want that match."

  • Kerr says improving Warriors played 'best stretch all year' in win over Rockets Kerr says improving Warriors played 'best stretch all year' in win over Rockets

    The Golden State Warriors played their "best stretch" of basketball this season in Saturday's 120-101 win over the Houston Rockets says head coach Steve Kerr, as the reigning champions ominously made it five wins from six games.

    The Warriors raced to a 39-23 quarter-time lead, inspired by Andrew Wiggins with a season-high 36 points and reigning NBA Finals MVP Stephen Curry with 30.

    Golden State led 22-4 at one stage in the first quarter and did not commit a turnover until the second quarter, in an ominous sign from the reigning champions who improved to 12-11.

    "It was a phenomenal first 18 minutes," Kerr told reporters. "I thought that was maybe the best stretch we've had all year to start the game.

    "Then halfway through the second quarter, maybe eight minutes left in the second quarter we didn’t have any turnovers, we had like 16 assists, we were defending, rebounding, doing everything right and then we just lost our focus.

    "That's our biggest challenge right now is trying to maintain our focus long enough to not give up leads and allow teams back in and I thought that’s what happened tonight."

    Warriors shooting guard Thompson was rested for the game, the second of their back-to-back games, having won 119-111 over the Chicago Bulls on Friday.

    "The hope is that he will play back-to-backs later this year," Kerr said.

    "Today, he will go through really good court work to try and simulate as best we can what a back-to-back would feel like for him."

    Wiggins and Curry both scored eight three-pointers each as the Warriors tallied 25 for the game on 52.9 per cent shooting from beyond the arc.

    The Warriors became the second team behind the Utah Jazz in November-December 2021 to make 20 three-pointers in four of five games.

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