Julio Rodríguez has to be okay.
Everything else stopped in the bottom of the 1st as George Kirby struggled with his command and earned a walk to the mound from Cal Raleigh. While the meeting on the mound unfolded, the outfielders converged, and Julio began to express discomfort with his lower back, something he’d missed a few days with recently as he grappled with the longest professional season of his young career. His removal, even with a 3-0 lead that he’d sparked on the first pitch of the game with a double, was a a pallor over the entire proceedings.
Servais called the situation with Julio's back "concerning." Nothing specific sparked it, just started to lock up on him. Will be further examined tomorrow.— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) September 22, 2022
With their star sidelined and a genuinely abysmal day on the hill for Kirby, whose issues stemmed from a total lack of command of his off-speed in particular. In a season full of delightful firsts for the talented rookie righty, today featured several more inauspicious ones. First game with multiple walks allowed, first game failing to generate a single swing and miss on any of his off-speed pitches, first time failing to make it through the third inning in a start. Disappointments abounded as he left the M’s in a bind that would erase the three-run lead and see them down 5-3 entering the top of the 4th. The collapse felt imminent. And then it didn’t.
Yesterday I questioned whether the return of Jarred Kelenic was a sign of hope or of desperation and doom. As is often the case, it seems reality is somewhere in between. Kelenic’s performance today was nothing short of game-saving, despite an utterly hysterical moment that made me cackle loud enough to scare those near me (watch til the end as Brian says).
watch until the end for a very mariners surprise https://t.co/ZM3pcGv7CY— Brian Floyd (@BrianMFloyd) September 22, 2022
Leading off the 4th, as I stuck a mug in the microwave yet again to attempt to warm my sunken heart, Kelenic took advantage of Oakland Athletics starter Adrián Martínez, who Kelenic noted he’d seen frequently in the minors and had a good sense of.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more fury-filled swing, nor home run trot. Kelenic had walked on four pitches in his previous plate appearance so his first swing of the day had two ABs worth of pent up frustration. Frustration with his season going far differently than he’d hoped? With the organization for passing him over at the start of September initially for Taylor Trammell? With himself for struggling so much in both his first month and his previous stint that he’d not been present to attempt to help his teammates and their flagging lineup? I referenced Gandalf or a Horseman of the Apocalypse yesterday, but the intensity shooting out of Kelenic’s pores all afternoon might’ve been enough to scald the grass in Oakland like he’s the Ghost Rider, eyes ablaze with vengeance to boot.
jarred was uh, not pleased about that gatorade bath pic.twitter.com/Njvdf2Fr8l— Connor Donovan (@kennerdoloman) September 22, 2022
No time for shenanigans, Kelenic’s big fly cut the lead to 5-4, and a hustle double on a liner into the gap (off a lefty!) re-tied things on the heels of a Ty France leadoff double.
Crushing the homer off Martínez was brilliant, but this 6th inning hit, even on a 3-0 pitch, was the most impressive, most vital piece of his afternoon, and of the Seattle Mariners’ afternoon beyond Rodríguez’s health. Kelenic’s struggles have been litigated ad nauseam and his trouble handling lefties in particular. Had Seattle not been down Julio and needed Luis Torrens to pinch-hit for Jesse Winker immediately after Kelenic, I wonder if they might have subbed out Jarred right there. Instead, with Cal Raleigh grounding out and failing to get France in from third, they needed Kelenic to come up with something big enough to score the glacial All-Star from third. He did and with authority. A brilliant 2-for-3 day with a walk is simply about as good as anyone could have dreamed of from the 23-year-old with crushing expectations on his shoulders and a future that once seemed so certain now awash with doubt. Kelenic has not always made himself the most sympathetic figure, but the young man has every opportunity to find his stride again and carve a role in the lineup, the clubhouse, and the support of the fanbase as he strives to make good on the skills he’s worked so hard to hone.
5-5 became 7-5 soon after on an Adam Frazier double, with a two-out Captain Slapdick special poke to left, featuring a Dave Sims special “yyyeeuuuugh, you’d rather not get tagged there!”
The M’s comfortingly played add-on in the 7th and 8th, and even more impressively their bullpen combined to hold Oakland scoreless the whole rest of the way for a 9-5 victory. The hope now is to see Julio’s health situation be manageable enough so as to keep it from being a truly Pyrrhic victory. With three in Kansas City before an off-day, it would be fairly easy to simply sit the presumptive AL Rookie of the Year all weekend and get the benefit of 4+ days of rest, though an IL stint would not be unthinkable and would still get him back as soon as the final game of the Oakland series at the start of October, or perhaps the start of the four-game Detroit series thereafter. Either way, wins are a bulwark, and perhaps an omen of better things ahead for one of their young, exceptionally talented outfielders, even if in the short term the other has been sidelined.