MLB

Walk-off win to end drought 'better than you can even dream', say Mariners

By Sports Desk October 01, 2022

Cal Raleigh made MLB history to end the Seattle Mariners' 21-year playoff drought in fitting fashion – circumstances scarcely believable to manager Scott Servais.

The Mariners entered Friday knowing either defeat for the Baltimore Orioles or a victory of their own at home to the Oakland Athletics would clinch a Wild Card place.

Seattle were enduring the longest active postseason absence in any of the four major American sports.

And a surprise win for the Orioles at the New York Yankees kept Mariners fans waiting just a little longer, with their team very rarely doing things the easy way even in this hugely successful season.

But Raleigh, pinch-hitting for Luis Torrens, homered on a 3-2 pitch from Domingo Acevedo at the bottom of the ninth to clinch a sensational 2-1 walk-off win and a playoff series next weekend.

Raleigh became the first player in MLB history to secure a postseason berth with a pinch-hit, walk-off home run.

After only two as a rookie in 2021, this was also Raleigh's 26th homer of the year – a new single-season record for Mariners catchers.

That it happened at T-Mobile Park put the icing on the cake for Servais, who had already been talking up his team's World Series chances after beating the Texas Rangers the previous night. 

"The fact that we're in our ballpark and there's 40,000 people here tonight, it's better than maybe what you can even dream it could be," Servais said.

"We have a lot of baseball yet ahead of us. We did end the drought tonight, which is a very special feeling.

"There's so many kids that grew up in the Pacific Northwest that don't know anything about the Mariners being in the playoffs, and now we get to show them."

Servais is not alone in outlining title ambitions in Seattle, where the Mariners remain the only MLB team never to have been to a World Series, let alone won one.

But president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto believes the adversity has only made the franchise stronger.

"It wasn’t fluid. It wasn't a linear road for us," he said. "We stumbled, and we fell, and I think that made us stronger.

"And along the way, we found stars, we found leaders, and we found we found a team that came together.

"I think what you see out there right now is a group of guys who believe that they can beat anybody."

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  • Record scorer Giroud proves doubters wrong to make France history Record scorer Giroud proves doubters wrong to make France history

    Olivier Giroud scores goals, and this is what he has done across his career.

    On Sunday, Giroud proved his timeless finishing qualities again when he overtook the great Thierry Henry to become France's all-time record goalscorer.

    His first-half strike against Poland made it 52 goals in the shirt of Les Bleus, writing himself into the history books as France continued their defence of the World Cup in Qatar.

    It is not something that many would have predicted years ago, with Giroud respected to a point, but never really being mentioned in the same breath as some of France's other attacking talent.

    Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and even Antoine Griezmann often steal the headlines where the national team is concerned.

    Giroud is considered to be a less glamorous name, which is quite the dichotomy considering there is a strong argument the Milan striker has the most impressive hair in world football.

    The numbers do not lie, though, and the 36-year-old now stands alone atop the scoring charts for the world champions. Above Henry, Platini, Griezmann, Trezeguet, and so on.

    After making a name for himself when leading Montpellier in their shock Ligue 1 title win in 2011-12, scoring 21 goals in 36 games, he made the move to Arsenal.

    Giroud's time in the Premier League had ups and downs, but he still notched 105 goals for the Gunners in his five and a half seasons there, before moving across London to Chelsea and scoring another 39 in three and a half years at Stamford Bridge.

    After heading to Serie A and Milan, there were still those left unconvinced by Giroud, though he has continued to score in Italy as he hit 11 in 29 league games in his debut season, helping the Rossoneri to win their first Scudetto since 2010-11.

    He has another nine in 19 games in all competitions at club level this season, and has carried that form into the World Cup.

    When the injured Benzema was confirmed to be out of Qatar 2022, there was panic among France fans as this year's Ballon d'Or winner would not be there to help them defend their title from Russia 2018.

    However, Benzema also wasn't there in Russia. Giroud was.

    His presence up front may not have brought Giroud any goals in that tournament, or even any shots on target – somewhat remarkably from 546 minutes on the pitch – but he more than played his part.

    Giroud was a perfect foil for the teenage Mbappe, who thrived working off the big man's hold-up play, as did Griezmann as France went on to lift the World Cup for the second time, with Giroud creating seven chances from open play and recording one assist.

    This time, though, Giroud seems more focused on being the main man in front of goal, and he is already putting himself in the discussion for the Golden Boot, with the record-breaking strike being his third in Qatar.

    He may never be in the running for the Ballon d'Or, and is unlikely to be on many people's lists when selecting the all-time best French players.

    But with the 52nd goal coming in his 117th game at international level, there is no denying that Giroud scores goals, and as of now, more than anyone else in France's history.

  • Giroud breaks France's all-time scoring record Giroud breaks France's all-time scoring record

    Olivier Giroud etched his name into the France history books as he became Les Bleus' all-time top scorer after netting against Poland at the World Cup.

    The Milan striker equalled Thierry Henry's 51-goal record with a brace in a 4-1 win over Australia in his nation's World Cup opener, leaving him one shy of the outright benchmark.

    That made Giroud, aged 36 years and 53 days, the second-oldest player to score a double at the World Cup, after Roger Milla, who did so in 1990 for Cameroon aged 38.

    Giroud claimed the record outright with the opening goal in the round-of-16 clash against Poland, latching onto Kylian Mbappe's pass to fire Les Bleus ahead.

    The former Chelsea and Arsenal striker would likely have not started for Didier Deschamps' side if it had not been for pre-tournament injuries to Karim Benzema and Christopher Nkunku.

    Instead, Giroud and Kylian Mbappe have been tasked with carrying the attacking burden as France aim to defend their World Cup crown.

  • Japan v Croatia: Discipline the key for Dalic ahead of last-16 clash Japan v Croatia: Discipline the key for Dalic ahead of last-16 clash

    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.

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