Cal Reilly couldn’t finish his postgame interview outside the visitors’ dugout at Progressive Field without being interrupted by Mariners manager Scott Servais with a bottle of water in hand.
Reilly didn’t throw a hit-off or a no-hitter, as most Gatorade bath-like celebrations call for. But his performance on Friday was definitely worth one. The 25-year-old Seattle catcher blasted two home runs, first a low solo laser in the second inning and another three-run blast later in the sixth.
Reilly totaled four runs and became baseball’s all-time home run leader among catchers again with 21. Behind the plate, he caught new ace Luis Castillo in six shutout innings and helped extend Seattle’s hitting streak to five games in six. -1 win, Seattle’s third such streak of the season.
Servais was without a cooler, but approached his 24-year-old catcher with a grin before dousing him with water and ending the moment with a hug.
“Wow, Cal Raleigh,” Servais began later in his postgame press conference. “Wow! 21 homers. He collected some season.
“If you look at where he started the season and where he is now, I don’t think anyone could have predicted it. … But it was in (him). You just don’t know when it’s going to come out.”
The 21-homer rally became the third catcher in Mariners history to hit 20 homers in a season, joining Mike Zunino (three times) and Omar Narvaez (2019). It was his second career multi-homer game (Aug. 17 at LAA).
“We’re asking a lot of our catchers,” Servais said. “And he’s ready to take on that challenge.”
Seattle pitchers love and listen to the 25-year-old Raleigh, despite his sophomore status. And Servais, an 11-year veteran, is confident in his young catcher, who is thriving regardless of age.
But Raleigh’s path to major league success wasn’t always so smooth — he went 2-for-24 in April, for example. On April 28, Seattle optioned Reilly to Triple-A Tacoma, where he shortened his swing to hunt fastballs, getting back to basics.
In seven games with the Rainiers, Raleigh was 8-for-28 (.286) with four RBI.
“I think it starts with the fastball,” he said. “If you’re good with the fastball, you can always adjust to other things. If you’re sitting outside or in between speeds, that’s when you’re really in trouble.
“Anything you see pop out of (the pitcher’s) hand, you adjust to it. I think that’s what most good hitters do, and that’s what I try to model it after.”
What sticks out to former Servais catcher is Raleigh’s unwavering commitment to the pitching staff, which he considers a top priority. Coming off a previous stint at Triple-A Tacoma, manager Tim Federowicz, also a longtime veteran catcher, was impressed with Raleigh’s ability to call pitches and help pitchers some of his juniors.
“You’re not going to go out and hit two home runs or even every day,” Reilly said. “This is a game. But you can always go back there and try to control the other hitters by trying to game plan against them.
“I take pride in taking care of my pitcher. That’s number one.”
Reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray followed up Castillo’s impressive outing on Friday with six scoreless innings on Saturday, leading the Mariners to a 4-0 victory. Reilly was 1-for-3 with a walk, striking out Jesse Winker on a fifth-inning single.
Ty France hit a homer and the Mariners tacked on another pair of runs on walks. It was the 17th straight start of five or more innings with two or fewer walks for Seattle’s rotation, an active franchise record.
Hoping for back-to-back sweeps, Seattle took a 2-1 lead into Sunday’s game before a rain delay delayed the contest in the fourth inning. Ty France doubled off Julio Rodriguez in the first inning before the latter launched his 23rd home run of the season — a solo shot — in the third.
If Sunday’s game wasn’t over, the Mariners are 75-58 and lead Tampa Bay (74-58) by a half-game for the AL’s best wild-card allocation. Baltimore (71-62), the No. 1 team, remains four games behind.
The atmosphere is good, and the chances of Seattle snapping a two-decade playoff drought are growing – to 98.2 percent, according to Baseball Reference. During the six game drive – five of which were complete – the Mariners were an unblemished 5-0.
The Mariners are 17-2 this season when Raleigh homers.
“Then I guess I need another homer,” he said Friday, smiling. “I need to do (it) more often.”
KIRBY WINS Rookie OF THE MONTH
Seattle catchers “love” George Kirby’s two-seam fastball. When opposing hitters are inevitably bowled over by the 24-year-old’s new and improved offering, the pitching coaches smile among themselves.
Kirby’s venture to introduce and sharpen the two-seamer alongside fellow starter Robbie Ray paid handsome dividends last month, arguably the best five-week stretch of Kirby’s rookie season. He is the youngest member of Seattle’s rotation, and on Friday he took home the American League Rookie of the Month award for August.
The right-hander went 4-0 with a 2.15 earned run average with 34 strikeouts in five starts in August. He led the league rookies in WAR (1.4) and WHIP (1.13), walking just three of the 120 batters he faced.
Kirby became the third Mariners pitcher to win the award, joining Rafael Soriano (August 2003) and Michael Pineda (April 2011).
“The last month it’s been fun throwing that new two-seam and changing the slider a little bit,” Kirby told reporters. “I also have more work to do. So I just try to always add something or fix something, just to make it a little bit better.”
Before Kirby could finish his interview, second baseman and All-Star outfielder Julio Rodriguez interjected, “That’s my teammate!”
Kirby rarely walks anyone — his walk rate is in the 98th percentile of all MLB pitchers. He attributes the success to a better two-strike performance backed by a steadily increasing strikeout rate which currently falls in the 64th percentile on Baseball Savant.
He’s learning to increase his breath rate, encouraging hitters to drive out of the strike zone, which has become a recognized task for the 2019 first-rounder.
“I’m learning this. It was definitely a problem for me because I like to throw all my innings on strikes,” he said. “I have to get used to it, but I think it’s going pretty (well).
Kirby threw three innings of one-hit ball on Sunday, striking out two and walking none before the rain delay.
“A lot of guys throw two-seam fastballs, but not a lot of guys throw a path he does,” Serve said. “Certainly (not) with speed and movement and how he can command certain parts of the strike zone.
“It was a good weapon, definitely something the other team has to prepare for as they go through their meets.”
– Seattle recalled OF Taylor Trammell from Triple-A Tacoma and reinstated LHP Matthew Boyd from the 60-day injured list Thursday as MLB rosters expanded from 26 players to 28 players.
Boyd, a native of Mercer Island, grew up a Mariners fan and attended Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish. He was traded to Seattle hours before the Aug. 2 trade deadline, sending the 31-year-old to his hometown team amid what could be the club’s first postseason appearance since 2001.
“It’s just unreal,” Boyd said Tuesday. “I dreamed of wearing this uniform. I get chills thinking about it.’
– Seattle placed INF Dylan Moore on the 10-day injured list with a right oblique strain on Wednesday, retroactive to Aug. 29. In a related move, INF Abraham Toro was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma.
Two of Cleveland’s three scheduled starters in the weekend series with Seattle were placed on the injured list hours before Friday’s opener, possibly hurting their chances against a surging Mariners team and adding to an already tight race pennants in the AL Central.
Aaron Civale, Cleveland’s 27-year-old right-hander, was placed on the disabled list with forearm inflammation. But it appeared Zach Plesak, who was nursing a broken fifth finger on his right hand, may have hurt himself at T-Mobile Park last weekend.
After giving up a home run to Mariners’ Jake Lamb on Aug. 27, Plesak turned and watched as the homer made a good run into the right field seats before punching the grass at the base of the mound in front of his feet.
“They believe this is what caused the fracture,” MLB.com’s Mandy Bell wrote.
Seattle returns to T-Mobile Park on Monday for a three-game series with the Chicago White Sox, the first of an eight-game home stretch that spans 10 days. Southpaw starter Marco Gonzalez takes the mound for the first pitch at 3:40 PM PT.
After three games with Chicago, Seattle hosts a pair of interleague games, the first against Atlanta on September 9-11. The Mariners face the San Diego Padres on Aug. 13-14 before embarking on a 10-game road trip, the last of the regular season.