Teammate of Cal Raleigh raves about Mariners hero’s big leap forward

Oct 4, 2022, 11:31 AM

Mariners Cal Raleigh...

Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh celebrates his walk-off home run with teammates on Sept. 30, 2022. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Cal Raleigh was already having a great season for the Mariners before last Friday, but he will forever be a household name to M’s fans after his heroics that night.

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With the Mariners needing just a single run to beat the Oakland Athletics and end the franchise’s 21-year playoff drought, Raleigh hit a pinch-hit, walk-off homer with a full count and two outs in the bottom of the ninth for what will go down as one of the most memorable plays in team history.

While the homer has tremendous significance for the franchise, it also came with a reminder of how important Raleigh has been to the Mariners’ drought-ending team.

That was the 25-year-old catcher’s 26th home run of the year, setting a new team record for most homers by a catcher in a season (Mike Zunino previously had the record with 25 in 2017). And even though Raleigh was available off the bench Friday – he’s been getting regular time off lately to nurse a bothersome left thumb – he’s been anything but a reserve this year. In his second MLB season, he has been Seattle’s primary backstop, and for good reason thanks to his defense behind the plate and acumen as a general for the pitching staff.

None of this is lost on his teammates.

“We don’t have enough time for me to give all the compliments I can give to Cal Raleigh this season,” Mariners reliever and saves leader Paul Sewald said Monday to Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob. “He has taken the biggest leap forward I think I’ve ever seen a player take.”

That’s certainly high praise from one of Seattle’s biggest veteran leaders.

Cal Raleigh’s walkoff highlights how important he’s become to Mariners

Sewald pointed out that Raleigh’s season didn’t go as planned at first. The switch-hitter struggled out of the gate, much like he struggled in his first 47 games with the M’s in 2021, going just 2 for 24 (.083) in nine games this April. That resulted in him being sent to the minors, but he was back by early May when the Mariners lost starting catcher Tom Murphy for the season with a shoulder injury.

“Remember, he got optioned in May because things were going so poorly for him,” Sewald mentioned. “Tom Murphy gets hurt, we have no choice but to bring him back, and all he does is have a Silver Slugger/Gold Glove season and he’s essentially helped us get to the point where we were.”

Raleigh has been a big contributor with his bat, hitting the most homers by a catcher in baseball this season and posting a .759 OPS that ranks eighth among catchers in MLB to play at least half of their team’s games. And he’s had a knack for the big blast when the M’s need it most.

“You know, there were times when we’re lacking offense and he carried us. I swear he only hits homers in the biggest moments, and they’ve been incredible,” Sewald said.

Then there’s what he does behind the plate. Raleigh is third among MLB catchers with 14 defensive runs saved, and third among qualified players in caught stealing percentage, having thrown out 25 of 53 attempted base stealers (32.1%).

Just as big for Sewald and the rest of the Mariners’ pitchers, though, is Raleigh’s ability to call a game and manage the staff.

“The way he’s stepped up with handling a pitching staff,” Sewald said, “I know there were times last year where he would put down a sign (to call a pitch) and I would almost have to second guess, like, ‘Alright, if Cal thinks this, is that really what it is?’ And I’ve gotten to the point that, ‘If Cal thinks this, even if I think it’s the wrong one, we gotta go with that because he knows what he’s talking about.’

“I’m so proud of the player he’s become this year and we are very, very thankful that he’s become a superstar.”

You can listen to the full conversation with Sewald in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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