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No-Doubter of the Week: Julio Rodríguez is the fastest to 50 home runs

JULIOOOOOOOOOOOO (imagine 50 Os—it breaks the formatting to put them all here)

ulio Rodriguez #44 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates with teammates after hitting a two-run home run during the fifth inning against the Kansas City Royals at T-Mobile Park on August 26, 2023 Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

We love metaphors here at Lookout Landing. Absolutely cannot get enough of them. Even the tired ones. Even the poor ones. Hell, even the huddled masses of metaphors yearning to breathe free. All are loved in these digital pages. And yet, every once in a while, you find something that defies metaphor, even here. Some things are so singular that it feels disrespectful to compare them to anything else. Sometimes, something can just smack you upside the head with the sheer it-ness of itself. Such is Julio Rodríguez.

The Mariners, as you are probably aware, fought their way back from the scrapheap of the AL West on an all-time heater, going from a 7.5-game deficit to a 1-game lead, passing (and sweeping) Houston along the way, all in just 11 days. This is the type of task that demands a hero, and Julio’s stats are nothing short of heroic: .532/.577/.851, good for a wRC+ of 298. For good measure, he also stole seven bases. The Mariners had other heroes in that time too. By fWAR, Teoscar Hernández was fourth in MLB over that stretch. Cal Raleigh was tenth. Josh Rojas—Josh Rojas—was 18th. The only Mariners who were below-average hitters during that run were Cade Marlowe and Brian O’Keefe. But Julio of course, was second in baseball by fWAR, dragged down only because he played just 10 of the games thanks to a scheduled day off and a bout of food poisoning.

Julio’s run goes back farther than that, though. My preferred starting point is May 22, when the Mariners began a homestand that turned Julio’s slow start on its head. That’s three months ago now, so it’s half a season. In that span, Julio’s been the most valuable player in the American League who doesn’t also pitch, accruing 4.8 fWAR thanks to his 155 wRC+, 27 stolen bases, and elite defense at a premium position. His strikeout rate, long noted as the reddest flag, is below league average in that stretch.

If you pick a different starting point, his August leaves him the front-runner for AL Player of the Month, leading the league in fWAR by a comfortable margin, with a .501 wOBA and 11 stolen bases, breaking records that have stood since 1925, and doing things like this:

Plays like this are what I mean when I say that he’s beyond metaphor. He’s a Mack Truck that hits you with the brute force of his existence; he’s a live wire cackling through MLB. These ideas just feel insufficient. That we get to watch him breaking baseball and putting the franchise we love on his back is a joy reminiscent only of the joy we see on his own face.

Picking a Play of the Week in a week this good is a tall task, but it obviously has to be one of Julio’s. What this week has been, as much as a celebration, is a week of Mariner nostalgia. The Mariners hold first place post-All-Star break for the first time since 2003, and you try to think of your life twenty years ago, and the role Mike Cameron, Bret Boone, Edgar, and Ichiro played in it. The team suddenly jolts into the conversation for a division title, and echoes of Jay Buhner’s iconic “Fuck the Wild Card” goes viral, making you realize that going viral wasn’t even a thing when he said it in 1995.

That nostalgia puts a weird spin on the current moment. I’m trying to live in the moment, but it’s impossible not to also imagine my future self nostalgic for the present. What will stand out? The game where the Mariners hit seven home runs, and the man at the center of it reached a milestone. Julio hit his 50th home run on Saturday, becoming the fastest Mariner to get there. Coming when it did, in the middle of this 24-6 run, you picture yourself with a young person 15-20 years from now, imagining how you will feel watching this home run when it’s included in a highlight package that plays when he hits his 500th.

He’s already two steps closer, having hit his 51st on Sunday and his 52nd on Monday. Of course he hit two home runs in the last two days.

Honorable Mentions

Castillo’s Cruise Control

The Mariners #1A has had some ups and downs this year, but when he’s locked in, there’s nobody in baseball who’s more watchable. He was cruising so easily against the White Sox that he finished with 47 straight fastballs, and I didn’t even notice until Pitching Ninja pointed it out. My favorite was this one, his 38th, used to strike out Eloy Jimenez. Do you know how well you have to be pitching to get a called strike with a middle-middle fastball against a good hitter? When you’ve just thrown 37 other fastballs? Some things defy metaphor.

Castillo Makes It Two In A Row

You might be thinking to yourself, hey, it’s only the Royals. If you are, remind yourself that they didn’t exactly go quietly in most of Seattle’s games against them. But Castillo steamrolled them without even having his best velo, getting KC’s best hitter to chase this one out of the zone to end the sixth inning of his second great outing this week.

J.P. Reminds Us We Missed Him

Concussions are scary. There’s just no way to tell how long it’s going to take someone to get back to 100%. J.P. taking Brady Singer’s first pitch to the right field seats, for the farthest home run of his career, has me breathing a lot easier.

Paul Sewald Still Has Our Backs

The Seattle Mariners’ winning has only been one piece of the story of their comeback, as the Rangers picked the worst time to go on a 1-9 skid. Paul Sewald may no longer wear the Northwest Green, but one teal team is as good as another if he keeps messing with Texas. His message afterwards had my heart grow three sizes. Go Snakes.