Context in baseball is rarely, if ever, limited to just one play. Last night’s game between the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers was a garden of context, the roots feeding heartily on events and narratives that have been budding all season, and even before. The series before this, in the home ball park of the Rangers, the Mariners were swept. Their dismal record against that opponent going into that series, one win and five losses, became a blighted one-and-eight. A striking blow not only because of the self-contained implications of playing poorly against a division rival, but in particular for what it meant for Seattle’s postseason hopes.
Hopes that were defiantly not yet dashed, although their trajectory quickly felt like that of a rudderless ship, helplessly nudged by the waves into a rocky shore of doom and postseason elimination that felt inevitable. A breath of wind coming from the shore aided the ship of hope’s survival, the breath coming from whispers reminding all who would listen that the Mariners would still get one last chance to prove themselves against Texas in the final four games of the season, and on their home waters. A few different scenarios remained in which Seattle could still qualify for the postseason, but all of them with realistic odds required them to win every game against their final opponent. After being swept by them last time and in between dropping two of three to another division rival, the Astros, that rocky shore loomed titanic.
For J.P. Crawford, his season long narrative has been one of years of culmination, with a dramatic turn kicking off this most recent act. His successes and evolution have been well documented on Lookout Landing throughout the year, a span that has seen a resounding consensus of him as team captain, if an unofficial one. Crawford was a frequent pick for Zach Mason’s play of the week feature again and again. Back in the middle of May, when the pitching reigned and the offense sought to redefine the term anemic to a new low standard, Zach Mason declared J.P. Crawford Appreciation Week and wrote three separate pieces celebrating his defense, baserunning, and offense. Even before play began, Jacob Parr presciently declared him Captain of the Good Ship Mariner. Rumblings of the role and the title reach back even further than that, with one particular moment of note being his postgame interview following the last game of the 2021 season.
There has been some debate recently as the discussion of his captain status has swelled as to whether or not the team should make it official with a patch or not, and whether the concept is even one that is a good fit for the sport of baseball. Wherever you may reside in that area of thinking, it should still go unchallenged that leadership is important to any group effort. Leadership can mean many things. It can mean moral leadership, and emotional leadership. These qualities have never been in question for Crawford, who has long been a target of praise in these arenas from his teammates, and all who work with him. Leadership is also having an unshakeable work ethic, leading by example. And also, whether you view it as fair or not, leadership in sports is also getting results. A true leader on a team, a true captain, embodies all of these qualities.
This year, J.P. Crawford has embodied all of these qualities.
A leader in baseball is many things, but a leader in baseball gets results. A leader in baseball may still fail more times than they succeed, but they get results when it matters the most. With the game, nay, the season on the line. Yesterday’s game had those very dire implications, but before we set that stage, we need to go to one night earlier than that. In game one against the Rangers of the four game series, every one a do-or-die, J.P. Crawford came up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with his team down one, and down to the final out. Captain Crawford delivered.
The whispers keeping the ship of hope an intact vessel perhaps rose to a murmur. The feat was no doubt grand, but three more games remained that needed to be won. In the matchup that occurred last night the murmur became a buzz, harmonizing with the moment made easier by a much more one-sided affair, with the Mariners coming on top. It was not without its heroics, and those of course with layers of context behind them.
A situation that seems to have historically plagued many Mariners teams is the ability to hit with runners in scoring position, and a particularly grisly effort when the bases are loaded with one or no outs, making historic calls about salami, rye, and mustard seem not a memory but a fairy tale. If you look at the Mariners season stats in these areas, the numbers are surprisingly not as appalling as emotions might have you expect, but that is largely due to the hot-and-cold nature of the Mariners year. The team without J.P. Crawford is slashing .247/.327/.387 with runners in scoring position, and .287/.330/.445 with the bases loaded. Those season numbers aren’t inspiring, but neither are they damning. If we isolate those RISP numbers to the last two weeks then it is an entirely different tale, with a line of .189/.273/.243 for the team (once again excluding Crawford) that is quite frankly painful to even type out. J.P. Crawford in that time is batting .308/.471/.615 with runners in scoring position, singlehandedly steering the Good Ship Mariner.
"LET'S FUCKING GO" and then he signs the camera.— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) September 29, 2023
Crawford is a leader. He is saving the Mariners season. In the Josh Rojas post-game interview last night he perhaps said it best: “He is Him.” Believe it or not, that isn’t even the best part. J.P. Crawford just made history. This isn’t some obscure Alex Mayer-esque stat, as much as I do love them. This one is significant. This one is for all the rye bread and mustard, and a little bit of salami thrown in. This year, with the bases loaded, Crawford is 11-for-16 with a line of .688/.647/1.250 which not only leads the league this season, it’s the best batting average with the bases loaded for a season posted by a player in the MLB. Ever. Those hits were made up of six singles, two doubles, and... two grand slams. The first, on April 26th, of course made Zach Mason’s play of the week. The second one, well, about last night...
It truly does not matter whether the captain status is made official for J.P. Crawford. What matters is what we know in our hearts. What his teammates believe in, and follow. Leaders, captains, steer the ship in the roughest of waters. Captains make the hard choices. Captains put in the work. Captains get the job done.
His legend grows. J.P. Crawford has become John Power Crawford, Joy Prevails Crawford, and many other variations. As Kate dubbed him in her recap of last night’s affair, he is the King of Flow. He has risen the whisper of hope to a murmur, then to a roar. He has reattached the rudder, and steered the vessel if not away from the rocks, then safely along them, and in the direction of Playoff Sound. Godspeed.