The Longest Game: Mariners Trickle out of the Playoffs


Pitcher George Kirby (Image: MLB)

The last time the Mariners flirted with baseball infinity was 27 years ago in New York at Yankee Stadium. In the rain after midnight, they lost in 15 innings to go down 0-2 in the first postseason series in franchise history.

Dave Niehaus captured the mood.

I’ll never forget that night,” the venerable broadcaster said years later. “I just knew it was over. We had to fly back 3,000 miles (to Seattle), and there’s no way you beat New York three straight games.”

Except the Mariners did, preposterously outplaying the Yanks in the Kingdome and advancing to the American League Championship Series.

Saturday at T-Mobile Park will not be forgotten either. In the third game of the 2022 American League Division Series, the Mariners went even further, 18 innings, tying the MLB record for longest game in playoff history. This time, they didn’t win .

They trickled out of the playoffs, 1-0.

The excruciating 21-year wait to return to the postseason ended in an even more excruciating manner — a six-hour, 22-minute molar-grinder against the American League’s best team that had enough shoulda-woulda-coulda to displace all the water in Puget Sound. Gone in one swing, a home run by a rookie shortstop, Jeremy Pena.

The biggest difference between this year’s Mariners and the storied 1995 team? The opponent. The Yankees that year won 86 regular-season games in their first return to the playoffs in 14 years. This year’s Astros won 106 games and, after sweeping the Mariners in three games, are going to the ALCS for the sixth consecutive year.

The Astros are an eminence, a rival, a nemesis. Also, the model. Minus, of course, the cheating.

Players rightfully can say that the three games — two one-run losses and a two-run loss — easily could have been a Mariners sweep.

That wasn’t necessarily clear after a September stumble of eight losses in 11 games, nor in the 12-7 advantage the Astros had in the regular season series.

Growth was apparent Friday night to a sellout crowd of 47,690. who mostly stood and yelled for what amounted to a doubleheader, as smoky skies and tricky shadows transformed into a chilled night game that drifted between exuberance and tedium. Many grew eager for any resolution.

The competitive proximity was also apparent to catcher Cal Raleigh, the most tired man in the building after squatting for much of 18 innings.

“It was amazing, these last couple of weeks,” he said. “The (playoff) chase, and clinching, and winning at Toronto. I mean, honestly, if you flip a coin, we could have been about the champagne today.

“They’re a good team. We’re a good team. They found a way to get it done.”

Both sides offered superb pitching and quality defenses that smothered the offenses.

The teams combined to strike out 42 times, topping the postseason record of 39 set by the Guardians and Rays last week in their AL wild-card matchup. The game was error-free.

“We kept putting the zeroes up there, and they kept putting the zeroes up there,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais. “You think we’re going to be able to break through, because we have so many times.

“It’s kind of what we’re accustomed to playing, those tight games and finding a way.”

Rookie George Kirby, 24, was brilliant in his first postseason start, going seven shutout innings, giving up six hits and no walks. Then the Mariners rolled out nine relief pitchers. Victimized by Pena was Penn Murfee. He was succeeded by erstwhile starter Robbie Ray, who notoriously lost the first game in relief with a game-winning home run by Yordan Alvarez — the one pitch that changed the series.

This time, Ray picked up the final two outs of the 18th inning. But the damage was done. The Mariners offense went down 1-2-3, including the last by phenom Julio Rodriguez, dashing the Seattle dream scenario of a solo homer by the likely rookie of the year that would have tied the game and sent it into . . . well, never mind. Let’s not go there.

Kirby and fellow starter Luis Castillo set an AL record — the first starting tandem to go 7.0+ scoreless innings with no walks in the same postseason.

The feat spoke to a theme of youth that permeated a clubhouse that was largely free of moping and second-guessing, instead offering hugs and backslaps for an entertaining season that pickled the future with promise.

Asked how tired he was after 18 innings, Rodriguez offered a wan smile.

“Hey,” he said. “I’m 21 years old.”

He led a youthful core that gave the Mariners a second consecutive 90-win regular season and the first playoffs since before Google, Facebook and smartphones. His observation also invoked another echo from the 1995 team, which was the first of four playoff teams over seven seasons.

One of the 90s heroes, gnarly relief pitcher Norm Charlton, spoke about the first time through the playoff mill for the youngsters.

“The (Yanks) beat the piss out of us twice in New York, we fly all the way back, and guys are wondering what’s going on,” he said. “Most hadn’t been in the playoffs before.

“Hell, some of them thought we got a ring for winning the division: “No, you dumb-ass — that’s the World Series.”

The World Series. The Mariners remain the only MLB team never to have made it.

After three taut games that included 18 innings of a stare-down for the ages, a Series is no longer a dumb-ass notion for a team out of the drought.

Art Thiel
Art Thiel
Art Thiel is a longtime sports columnist in Seattle, for many years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and now as founding editor at


  1. If anything the most frustrating thing about this series is that if the M’s advanced they match up better against Cleveland and New York. It’s just Houston that’s the issue and right now as Scott Servais has always said the road to the World Series goes through Houston for now.

    The M’s got some valuable playoff experience. We know now that they have arguably the best pitching in the AL and plays by Rodriguez, Frazier and Kelenic shows they can play defense. I used to think they should do everything they can to bring back Edwin Diaz but I don’t think that anymore. Just a table setter is needed for the batting order so JRod can be put lower in the lineup. But last night the ‘pen became the Nasty Boys revisited. Pitching and defense was the cornerstone of 2001 and that’s in place. Be looking forward to when the M’s can finally move past the dirty cheaters and finally get that World Series absence off their backs.

    • My guess was that most fan frustration was not the opponent — no team gets to choose — but the absence of one more consistent hitter. Even the presence of injured Sam Haggerty might have produced a hit or stolen base that would have been critical is games decided by one, two and one run.

  2. Here’s to the boys of summer. Cheers and Bravos!
    You exceeded our expectations and brought us joy.

    If the managers leave this team intact, instead of shedding brilliant young players to NY and Houston, next year this team has a real chance to make the World Series.

    Note to the managers and owners – every once in a while, the team needs to be about baseball – not about making money for the owners’ already deep pockets.

    • Mariners made the most of the talent on hand. Regarding payroll, Mariners ranked 21st of 30 in player payroll at $121M. MLB average was $163M. Owners can afford to play the big-boy role among their fellow plutocrats.

    • Not sure anything is safe to say regarding sports outcomes, but it’s plain M’s bosses have developed a core of youngsters that can be built upon for a few years.

  3. We sat, we stood up, we scribbled on 4 pages of scorecard just waiting and waiting. It never happened but it was an exhilarating 6 hours inside a ballpark as I’ve never seen it. Electric and epic, and full of hope for the season to come. You captured it all, Art.

  4. Thanks, Mike. Drawing out the scoreless tension over 18 innings against probably the best team in MLB was an extraordinary experience that will only exaggerate in the re-telling — as all great sports stories should.


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