Modern professional baseball is an exercise in unlikely mass adoption. Players from across the United States and the world represent the city they’re selected by, sent thousands of miles from home in order to follow their dreams. Though the early decades of MLB have helped the northeastern U.S. maintain a hold on the top numbers of big leaguers produced, for decades the southern U.S., blessed with ample sunshine and warm winters has unsurprisingly pumped out many of the most productive pros in MLB. Tonight, the battery for the Seattle Mariners was their two Floridians (or one native, one transplant, as Raleigh attended Florida State), a duo paired together with clear intention by the club from the moment they joined the organization just one day apart in the 2018 draft. Logan Gilbert and Cal Raleigh.
In this 2019 article from Kate and former Modesto Nuts broadcaster Keaton Gillogly, it’s striking to track how easily the through line runs from these moments to the big league excellence we witnessed tonight and have enjoyed all year.
“It’s your career, not mine,” Modesto Nuts pitching coach Rob Marcello Jr. told Mariners first-round pick Logan Gilbert when he approached Marcello with a question about something his catcher, Cal Raleigh, had said. “You guys are going to be the battery sooner or later in the big leagues. You need to figure it out now.”
Marcello, now the Triple-A pitching coach for the El Paso Chihuahuas in the San Diego Padres system, received significant credit with rejuvenating the career of LHP MacKenzie Gore into a player capable of helping San Diego net Juan Soto. He was right about Gilbert and Raleigh too. Tonight the pair showed just how far they’d come.
Seattle took a lead in the 4th inning on what can only be described as a Series of Unfortunate Events for the Chicago White Sox. Ty France, who has the spirit of a golden retriever, the bat of the canine co-star of Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch, and the foot speed of the human co-star of Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch, Richard Karn, cracked a double down the right field line that would have undoubtedly been a single had one of Chicago’s many lumbering first-basemen-turned-corner-outfielders properly read the bounding ball’s trajectory off the lip of the stands in foul territory. In this case, it was Gavin Sheets who was forced to trot sheepishly after the ball upon a sudden change of angle, allowing France to cruise into second. Mitch Haniger’s subsequent sacrifice fly to right would have been fait accompli for almost any player in the league to advance save for France, but even he would have narrowly out-chugged an on-target throw. The inconsequence of the moment lulled 3B Yoán Moncada into a stupor, as he oléd Sheets’ nine-hopper of a throw and watched it trickle into the camera well.
White Sox starter Johnny Cueto tried valiantly to argue otherwise, but much like myself upon hearing the play described to me first before actually seeing the video, the umpiring crew could not wrap their heads around anything less than a run as punishment. Congratulations to Ty France and his BsR, and sorry to the camera person whose rig got clunked. 1-0 M’s.
As it happened, that would be all they needed, but the line score belies a game with several fraught moments. Despite a line that suggests near-dominance - 6.0 IP, 5 H, 0 R/ER, 0 BB, 9 K - Gilbert battled his command most of the evening, particularly with his fastball. He continued working in his re-tooled two-seamer, though he remained four-seam reliant. Those go-to heaters betrayed him in the top of the 4th, as a low 2-0 four-seam was lined for a single by Moncada and the next pitch, a two-seamer, clipped José Abreu to put two on with no outs.
Subsequently falling behind 3-0 on Eloy Jiménez, Gilbert reached the nadir of his outing, and of Seattle’s night. Sometimes digging deep means digging yourself a hole. Raleigh pushed him back to the fastball and he dodged the barrel to draw a solid flyout to center that Julio Rodríguez hurried in accurately, holding runners in place. Poor Gavin Sheets was next, rolling over a 2-2 slider for a possible double play ball. Instead, Gilbert slightly erred in covering the bag, roaring with frustration as he caught J.P. Crawford’s relay and flung his right foot around in desperation, finding no purchase on the bag. Buckling down, a fuming Gilbert snuck out of trouble, getting last night’s pest A.J. Pollock to line out to J.P. Crawford.
The threat came nearly in rhyme in the top of the 6th, as Abreu doubled with one out and Jiménez singled sharply to Julio, with the Rookie of the Year hopeful firing hard and on line to hold runners at first and third. It would be Gilbert’s last inning, and in his third time through the order he had to hold the line. Sheets’ nightmarish day continued with a punchout, two foul tips secured by Raleigh to arrest the young slugger. Two down, two on, two Florida boys in the Pacific Northwest.
Again, to Kate’s article on pitcher and catcher from 2019:
“This off-season we had a little program,” Cal says, “and we learned about the truth, and telling the truth. The truth doesn’t hurt. It’s good for you. Any time you can be truthful with somebody, you can show that you care. And once you show them you care, you can get them invested.”
It’s never a secret that Gilbert cares about his work, nor that Raleigh takes great care to back up all his pitchers, perhaps his longest-tenured teammate most of all. The 6’6 righty has an amiable demeanor that is countered by his in-game persona. It’s an intense figure that apparently has earned the nickname “Walter” for... undisclosed reasons. If no explanation is forthcoming, I posit it receive a retcon, re-ascribed to be an homage to one of baseball’s first fireballers, Walter Johnson. There is nothing quite so aspirational as granting a nickname to a 24-year-old based on one of MLB’s all-time greats, but if the original Walter was “The Big Train” perhaps our lithe young “Walter” can at least be “The Light Rail”.
Starting pitchers tend to be possessive sorts, and part of the joy and agony of life in the rotation is seeing each start as yours. As Gilbert stormed triumphantly off the mound, he was turning the game over to perhaps the league’s best bullpen, but outside of Shohei Ohtani, every starting pitcher cedes all control of the outcome of their game to others. Fortunately for Gilbert, he was also leaving his game in the trusty mitts of his catcher.
Raleigh erased a leadoff single in the 7th by Adam Engel off Matt Brash with a dart to second, resetting things for the occasionally-erratic rookie fireballer and helping him work a scoreless frame. In the 8th, he coaxed Andrés Muñoz through the heart of Chicago’s order, including a nifty deke with his glove target to throw off what several folks, including Dan Wilson on the broadcast, surmised may have been an effort at (tech-free) sign-stealing efforts from second-base by the ChiSox. In the bottom of the frame, after a two-out walk and steal by Sam Haggerty, a cherry on top for the man in the Apple Bottom jeans:
3-0 was plenty for Paul Sewald who diced a deflated White Sox lineup with ease. The man who got doused with both water jugs in his postgame interview, once more from Kate and Keaton’s piece:
“I could be the smartest guy in the world,” Cal says, “but if you don’t care about that person, or you don’t care about their career enough to tell them the truth, it’s not going to do anything for them, or you, honestly. It’s like that old saying...they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. That’s been something big I’ve followed so far.”
There’s no doubt Raleigh’s team knows he cares, but they’re not the only ones. These two, who carried their team to victory tonight once more, and are driving a storm of sweet summer rain right through the playoff drought, they have made this fanbase care to know them too.