'J-Rod to the rescue': OF saves bird, then lifts team to sweep

No. 16 prospect Rodriguez protects avian interloper before driving in go-ahead run

May 22nd, 2024

CLEVELAND -- You never forget your first series in the big leagues. Some cherish the stories of their first hits. Others beam over the memories of their families being in the stands. Or, if you’re , you’ll always be able to tell people about how you rescued a baby bird before leading your team to a victory with a go-ahead RBI single for your first career hit.

The Guardians had been down by three runs for five innings until Andrés Giménez tied the game in the sixth inning with a three-run blast. That set Rodriguez up to be the hero in just his second career game, serving an opposite-field single through the right side of the infield to bring home what became the winning run.

Not only did the Guardians walk away with a 6-3 victory over the Mets on Wednesday at Progressive Field, they also secured their second consecutive sweep as their winning streak extended to six games.

“It feels really good,” Rodriguez said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “My focus was to try to hit the ball hard … just to try to help the team.”

Two days ago, Rodriguez was just about to board a plane to Omaha with his Triple-A squad when he was pulled aside and informed that he was going to travel to Cleveland instead of Nebraska. He quickly picked up the phone and called his wife and parents, then made his trek up to Northeast Ohio.

Rodriguez had earned this promotion after implementing the changes the Major League coaching staff asked of him coming out of Spring Training during the early weeks of the Minor League season, like running hard after each ball in the outfield and settling in at the plate with more professional at-bats. His bat quieted in the last few days before his callup to the Majors, but apparently he was just saving the next big hit for the Guardians.

“I’m happy to be here,” Rodriguez said when asked what fans should know about him. “Sometimes I can be a little timid, but that doesn’t take away the part that I just want to win and help the team and play the game the right way.”

Rodriguez hadn’t even been with the big league club for 72 hours before smacking a clutch, go-ahead hit. He sent an outside heater from Mets righty Reed Garrett into right field at 102.2 mph.

“For a hitter, you don’t really feel like a big leaguer until you get that first one,” Guardians catcher Austin Hedges said. “Then you get that first one and you’re like, ‘All right, I belong.’ It really jumpstarts your career. The boys were fired up for him. He’s had great at-bats already to start, so we’re all excited to have J-Rod here.”

According to MLB.com’s Sarah Langs and the Elias Sports Bureau, Rodriguez became the fourth Cleveland player to record a go-ahead hit in the seventh inning or later as his first career hit in the expansion era (since 1961). He joins Nigel Wilson (1996), Ezequiel Carrera (2011) and Jason Kipnis (2011).

“Anytime anybody gets their first hit in the Major Leagues, it’s a celebration in itself,” Guardians manager Stephen Vogt said. “And then to have it be a late-inning, go-ahead single in a huge spot, definitely a moment he’ll never forget, and neither will anybody else.”

Maybe this wouldn’t have happened if Rodriguez hadn’t gotten karma on his side at the start of the game. Rodriguez was minding his business in right field in the first inning against the Mets on Wednesday, as Guardians pitching coach Carl Willis came out to chat with his starting pitcher, Triston McKenzie. Center fielder Tyler Freeman noticed a bird in the outfield, but had no interest in picking it up. He pointed the bird out to Rodriguez, and without hesitation, the rookie scooped the bird into his glove.

Rodriguez hustled to the bullpen door in right-center field and handed the bird to a staffer to make sure it got out of harm’s way. The worker cradled the bird in a towel and carried it out of the park.

“I saw the bird was right in front of [Freeman] right when the game was starting,” Vogt said, “and then all of a sudden I saw J-Rod go over and grab it during the mound visit. Free’s like, ‘I’m not touching that thing.’

“J-Rod to the rescue.”

In just one game, Rodriguez proved to be the hero twice. It’s only fitting. He is a Guardian now, after all.