In the top of the 4th, with the bases loaded and Julio Rodríguez striding to the plate with two outs, Rick Rizzs made note of a fact he’d highlighted a few times already.
“Here is Rodríguez and folks the Mariners are still, at this point of the season in the middle of July, looking for their first Grand Salami of the year ... and this kid can do that.”
Reading the transcription back robs it of the proper gravitas, but the spirit Rizzs imbued it with was not a mere revisiting of the pregame notes. As staff writer Isabelle Minasian put it while listening to the middle innings of the game on the radio, he wanted it more than anyone. There was, as always with the man in his 35th year of broadcasting Seattle Mariners baseball, a tenor not merely of setting the stage, but attempting in some small way to direct the actors upon it. Rodríguez lashed an RBI single to no shortage of enthusiasm, but Rizzs’ moment would come.
In the top of the 8th inning, with bases loaded once more and not a single out recorded, Rizzs was comparatively measured. Perhaps reading the odds of the situation or not wishing to belabor the point, throughout Dylan Moore and Sam Haggerty’s at-bats Rizzs made no mention of the grand slam drought. Maintaining an even keel throughout the lengthy two strikeouts, as Julio once again strode to the plate with his typical cowboy-style clutch of the crown of his helmet, Rizzs allowed himself a tendril of hope.
“Julio digs his toehold in the right side of the batter’s box. Mariners still looking for that first grand slam of the year, but right now they would take a base hit.”
Perhaps to some Rizzs’ belief in the Mariners seems misplaced, or put on. It is, after all, his job to tell the story of their games and keep the people engaged. But as Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times noted in his recap of the game, like the late great Dave Niehaus, the broadcast itself can salvage times of desolation and elevate stretches of exhilaration. From Divish, on Niehaus:
They could hear it. They could feel it. They missed it. The voice a reminder of better times. The man would’ve ridden the emotional highs, lows and unexpected heights of this season as only he could, and we would’ve known it by the tone in that voice that reminds of you of summer.
Rizzs remains the living memory of the Mariners organization, the soul and connection to a team bereft of on-field glory for decades. His belief in the possibility of a franchise that has fallen flat again and again is a triumph, and one I am appreciative to experience shared.
Not for nothing, but Rizzs may have cause for faith in the M’s when the bases load up, of course. Since Rizzs re-joined Seattle full-time in 1995 following a few years off from his 1983-91 initial connection, the M’s have 135 Grand Salamis, fourth-most in MLB and trailing only the Yankees, Red Sox, and Guardians. If you can believe it, Seattle has the second-highest OPS of any team with the bases juiced in that time, and the highest team batting average at .299. So no, this year’s club has not been impressive with a full raft of ducks on the pond, but Rizzs’ memory is long, and his will is strong.
With each pitch from José Leclerc, his intensity rose, his volume rising with consecutive sliders in the dirt to draw the count to 3-2 as he instructed the ethereal script writers of baseball.
“Julio’s gotta be looking for a fastball here.”
He was, and he crushed a 96 mph heater at the very top of the zone - a pitch he explicitly struggled with very early this season - 420 feet over the fence in dead center field. Off the bat, perhaps, it seemed for a brief moment Rizzs’ faith might have faded. His call began measured, as though the memory of what is likely and “realistic” had crept in at last.
“And the 3-2 on the way to Rodríguez! Swing and a fly ball to center field...”
Every great hero’s journey is incomplete without an ally, lifelong or newly earned. If Moore and Haggerty’s K’s, much less a season of poor bases-loaded performance and decades of shortcomings in playoff hunts, were the trial of Rizzs’ faith, Rodríguez then is his cavalry cresting the mountain.
The story of the Seattle Mariners is, as baseball always has been, greater than any one individual. But the ability of Rodríguez to bend reality to his purpose has been a fulfillment , at least thus far, of the borderline messianic expectations the M’s organization has placed upon his 21-year-old shoulders. He is not merely the best player on a team in playoff position, he is their All-Star, their most visible national presence, the player the organization points to throughout their minor league system as an example in terms of work ethic and attitude and the results that follow. And he is the one to reward the faith of a 68-year-old man from a town just south of Chicago, whose belief in his adopted team may finally see fruition once again.