I’ve been struggling lately to enjoy some of the stories I typically relish. Tales of cosmic horror and grandeur, fantastical journeys and follies, they are my typical preference, in particular when those tales contain the rallying efforts of many to outdo or stave off an evil or overpowering few. But sometimes I am feeling low, or simply disconnected, and a tale of individual heroism is what the doctor ordered, a reminder that Big Sean was right, and that Merle and Willie’s wishes are, even for just a special few, a possibility. It is that majesty, that extraordinary faculty and ability to exceed beyond what seems possible for others, in particular when all others have fallen. It is through this lens that Julio Rodríguez has delivered exactly the heroism the Seattle Mariners needed to lock up a 6-4 victory and take three of four from the lowly Kansas City Royals.
Today’s breakfast baseball seemed ripe for a chance to take the dismal Royals to task, but like the rest of this series, little came easy. A leadoff single from Julio stretched to second by a throwing error gave Seattle an early threat, but the M’s could not capitalize off 23-year-old semi-spot-starter Angel Zerpa. In the second, a hit by pitch and a seeing eye single placed Jose Caballero and Cade Marlowe at third and first, bringing Julio up once more, now with two outs. In a mirror to last night’s inside-out line drives, Rodríguez delivered, showing Seattle the way to a 1-0 lead. With George Kirby dealing, perhaps, teeth-gnashingly, that would be sufficient.
Instead, Kirby wavered. A solo shot to Nelson Velazquez in the 4th knotted things, before a disastrous sixth inning sent across three more runs. That stretched the KC lead to 4-2, surging past the second run Rodríguez had hurled across the plate with a line drive that opted out of the gravity beta test off his bat at over 110 mph. It should have been 4-3, but Canzone, like Isaac Newton before the apple tree, could not full conceptualize the flight of the ball, with a lousy jump that saw him nabbed at the plate.
On a day only one other team of consequence to the M’s playoff hunt - the lurking Boston Red Sox - took the field, Seattle could only have made so much of a mess or made up so much ground. But splitting four with a team on trajectory for 110 losses is not a recipe for easing the uphill battle of chasing down a playoff spot. A bullpen that bowed repeatedly under heavy usage over the past week was nails at last, with Isaiah Campbell, Trent Thornton, and Matt Brash holding the final three frames run-free. But Brash’s presence in the 9th was only necessitated at all by Seattle retaking the lead. And by Seattle, I of course mean Julio.
Like Escanor, unbothered, strolling past the incapacitated Holy Knights with a smile, Rodríguez, an anime enthusiast himself, stepped to the plate in the top of the 8th with one out, Marlowe again at second with a double and Canzone a hard-earned left-on-left walk. In came the only Royals reliever of any proven capability post trade deadline, Carlos Hernández, a fireballer who’d been touched up Monday but entered with two days of rest. The leverage was high, specifically in that the amount of force conveyed by Rodríguez through the lever of his bat sent the first pitch he saw, 97 up in on his hands where teams have attacked him all year before diving low and away with sliders, into the left field stands so long it took an age to come down.
Canzone’s hesitation, erased. Dylan Moore’s Sean Casey impression on a ball he misread as caught in left field, nullified. Julio’s own pickoff earlier in the game, eradicated. The slop smeared across this game’s epitaph was seared off in the cleansing fire of a 110.5 mph meteor blast. Rodríguez manifested it with an attitude and approach that shows his vaunted ability to adjust and improve that has made him a superlative player at such a young age. Where he spent so much of the first half of the season trying to hit his way up to the gargantuan expectations placed upon him by the franchise’s goals and lack of efforts to improve externally this winter, the past couple days, weeks and month have been the superstar that carried the M’s across the sea to the promised land last year, and might just be able to yet again.