The Mariners improved to 13-16 while the Rays – winners of six straight entering Sunday – dropped to 18-11.
Kirby, a 24-year-old righty out of Elon University, struck out three of the four Rays batters he faced in the first inning, which gave the Seattle crowd something to cheer about in the midst of what had been a bleak stretch of six straight losses and 10 in 11 games, overall.
Those cheers continued to grow louder as Kirby dominated throughout his six innings, holding the Rays scoreless while racking up seven strikeouts against four hits and no walks on 81 pitches. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound hurler exited the game with the teams locked in a 0-0 tie.
“It’s awesome,” Kirby said of hearing the 32,501 fans cheering him on from the stands. “Thursday, they told me [of the callup], and since then, I’ve been on cloud nine.
“Nerves were flying, and it was just great to see all the fans out there. It was a beautiful day and you couldn’t ask for a better outcome.”
The scoreless deadlock held up until the eighth inning, when Rays right fielder Manuel Margot belted a home run to left-center field. Not to be outdone, Mariners third baseman Abraham Toro smacked a game-tying dinger over the right-field wall in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings.
Seattle walked off with only its second win over the last 12 games as Ty France’s hit in the bottom of the 10th sent Jarred Kelenic home from third.
While it was a thrilling end, the excitement in the Mariners’ clubhouse centered on Kirby.
“Heck of an outing from George,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “It was a shot in the arm, which is exactly what we needed. Really wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t know what we were going to get out of the rookie in his first time out there, but could not have asked for more.”
An already memorable day was made even sweeter for the highly touted prospect as Kirby’s family and friends made the trip from the east coast to be in attendance for his first Major League appearance. And Kirby was well aware during his time on the field.
“Usually I zone that stuff out,” he said, “but I heard them pretty good today.”
According to the young right-hander, those who made the trip were his father -- also named George – his sisters, aunts, uncles, and “about 15 to 20” friends from college and high school.
Can’t leave out Kirby’s mother, Linda, who also flew out for the game, making for quite the Mother’s Day gift.
“If I did bad, I’m sure she still would have loved me anyway,” the young Mariner said. “I couldn’t ask for a better day to have all my family here. It happened to be on Mother’s Day, and it was great.”
Even Rays manager Kevin Cash had Kirby’s mom in mind during his postgame interview.
“Their guy was just outstanding,” Cash said of Kirby. “What a day for him. I'm guessing his mom's pretty happy."
Kirby was called up after posting a 2-0 record with a 1.82 ERA while tallying 32 strikeouts and five walks over five starts and 24 2/3 innings for Double-A Arkansas. He was the Mariners’ first-round pick – 20th overall – of the 2019 MLB Draft. In 29 career appearances (28 starts) in the Minor Leagues, Kirby went 7-3 with 137 strikeouts and 20 walks while posting an ERA of 2.34 over 115 1/3 innings.
Kirby is the fourth Seattle player to make his MLB debut in 2022, joining outfielder Julio Rodríguez (April 8), RHP Matt Brash (April 12) and RHP Penn Murfee (April 29).