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Mariners notes: Career performances by Raleigh, Caballero bookend series losses

The eighth-inning offering to infielder Jose Caballero was a middle-middle fastball, surely a misplaced mistake.

Atlanta’s Nick Anderson delivered the meatball on a silver platter. In the eighth inning of Sunday’s series finale at Truist Park, ‘Cabby’ had already punctuated the afternoon with a three-stolen-base performance, the first by a Mariner since 2019.

But Caballero’s barrel found Anderson’s fastball, which exploded off the bat and found the left-field bullpens. The 102-mph rocket would have been a home run in 29 of 30 major league ballparks, with recent left-field construction and seat removal inside Baltimore’s Camden Yards to blame for the lack of no-doubt status.

“In the at-bat before the home run, I told (hitting coaches), ‘he’s going to hit his first homer here today,’” Seattle manager Scott Servais chuckled. “I was just one at-bat off.”

Two days prior, Anderson struck out Caballero on three pitches -- three swinging fastballs. Seattle’s second baseman remembered. So did third baseman Manny Acta, who told Caballero to hunt another.

Caballero knew his blast’s destination on Sunday before touching first base, but quickly rounded the diamond: “I was just trying to get to Manny. I was so excited to see him,” he said.

And his efforts narrowed Seattle’s deficit to one in a late, close game with Atlanta -- a contest they would go on to lose, 3-2, against the World Series favorites.

Yet Cabby’s gritty, determined play inside the batter’s box and on the basepaths goes far from unnoticed in Seattle’s clubhouse, particularly throughout a stretch where Mariners hitters have generally struggled to produce.

Caballero ascended in the wake of the early struggles by second baseman Kolten Wong and was thrust, suddenly, into consistent playing time. Acquired from Arizona in a swap for pitcher Mike Leake in 2019, Caballero slashed .333/.550/.593 in 10 games for Triple-A Tacoma this season before making his major league debut on April 15.

“From the day he showed up here, he was not in awe of anything,” Servais said. “(Jose) even made comments... ’all of the little things that I do, get noticed here.’ Stealing bases, turning a double play, getting on base.

“Doing the little things oftentimes get overlooked as you’re trying to climb your way through the minor league ladder, and maybe don’t put up gaudy numbers… but you’re a good baseball player.”

Seattle Mariners’ Jose Caballero (76) beats the tag from Atlanta Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia (11) as he steals second base in the sixth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) John Bazemore/AP
Seattle Mariners’ Jose Caballero (76) beats the tag from Atlanta Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia (11) as he steals second base in the sixth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) John Bazemore/AP

Despite seven, quality innings from starter George Kirby, Seattle’s loss was the second in a rubber match this week. Atlanta’s Travis d’Arnaud launched a game-deciding, solo homer in the sixth inning.

Outfielder Jarred Kelenic first lifted a no-doubt, second-inning homer to left field that tied the game early, though Seattle’s bats quieted until Caballero’s blast.

“I’m just trying to help the team, trying to be in scoring position,” Caballero said. “It didn’t go our way today, but… I was so excited to run the bases. It had the feeling of a first homer.”

Seattle completed its nine-game road trip at 4-5, now 22-24 overall and 6 1/2 games behind Texas (28-17) for the AL West lead.

On the road — and against one of the National League’s top teams — Seattle starting pitchers delivered a trio of quality starts in Atlanta. Kirby retired 13 of the last 14 batters he faced Sunday. His seven-inning, three-run performance was his second quality outing this week after shutting down Boston at Fenway Park on Monday.

“Our starting pitching has been outstanding,” Servais said. “You’re in the game every day. You’ve just got to capitalize and be more consistent offensively. That’s it.”

RALEIGH MAKES FENWAY HISTORY

Cal Raleigh can remember the cold October nights -- first in 2004 and again in 2007 -- when Boston broke the infamous ‘Curse of the Bambino’ and snapped 86 straight seasons without a World Series championship.

Glued to the television set, Raleigh was, still admittedly, a die-hard Red Sox fan. His father, Todd, was a catcher in Boston’s organization in the early 1990s, and his grandparents hailed from Vermont.

Then behind the dish was Jason Varitek, Boston’s longtime captain and switch-hitting catcher who won two championships and played for the Red Sox from 1997-2011. Varitek’s leadership, more than anything, stood out to Raleigh. He was more than Raleigh’s favorite player, but his childhood idol. An autographed Varitek jersey hangs now in his home.

“That’s the kind of player you want to be,” Raleigh said. “I don’t really care about the home runs. I want to be a good teammate, a good leader, and a good guy people can lean on.”

Raleigh first watched his idol live at Fenway in 2004 and made his personal debut there last May. On Monday — back in Boston for a three-game road set — the roles were reversed, as Varitek, now Boston’s Player Information Coach, watched from the home dugout.

Neither expected what came next, nor had any spectator in the 112-year history of Fenway Park ever witnessed it. With his idol in attendance, Raleigh achieved something ‘Tek never could.

In the fifth inning, Seattle’s 26-year-old catcher launched a shutout-breaking, two-run homer to right field. Raleigh’s left-handed golf swing had lifted the Mariners to a 2-0 lead in the series opener, scoring third baseman Eugenio Suarez. And again — just an inning later, against lefty and former teammate Brennan Bernardino — Raleigh crushed another.

Raleigh’s historic blast carried over the Green Monster and touched down on Lansdowne Street, some 434 feet from home.

Fellow switch-hitting Varitek never homered from both sides of the plate in a game at Fenway Park. No catcher ever had. Raleigh became the first catcher in the park’s 112-year history to achieve it.

The tidbit took Seattle’s catcher by surprise. “I’m surprised Varitek never did it,” he said.

“I guess I get to say I did that.”

It took young starter Bryce Miller by surprise, too. Just days before, he walked up to Raleigh, puzzled: “I didn’t know you were a switch-hitter.”

Raleigh chuckled in response. “Yeah, I don’t get as many at-bats from the right side,” he said in a retelling to MLB Network.

Raleigh’s grandmother, also a lifelong Boston fan, was in attendance for her grandson’s career day.

“Not today, though,” Raleigh laughed. “She was very happy.”

Meanwhile, Raleigh helped Kirby navigate hitter-friendly Fenway en route to a sparkling one-run appearance across 6 2/3 innings. He surrendered eight hits but struck out seven; Red Sox hitters went 1-for-5 against Kirby with runners in scoring position.

“When you catch a game like that… in a ballpark like this, when you hit a home run from each side of the plate… none of us will ever know how that feels,” Servais said, chuckling. “It’s really unique. … He’s in a good spot right now.”

SHORT HOPS

— Shortstop J.P. Crawford’s go-ahead, RBI single in the fourth inning of Saturday’s 7-3 win marked his 500th career hit.

— Seattle pitchers remained atop FanGraph’s Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) metric entering Sunday’s finale in Atlanta (8.9), ahead of second-place Minnesota (7.7), per Mariners PR.

ON DECK

Seattle returns to T-Mobile Park for a three-series, 10-game home stand starting Monday. Rotation ace Luis Castillo looks to rebound (0-2, 5.67 ERA in last five starts) in a series opener with Oakland at 6:40 p.m.