J-Rod reveals he robbed homer, but not until Tatis started his trot

August 9th, 2023

SEATTLE -- The cover-up from Julio Rodríguez was even more cunning than the crime. 

The Mariners’ star center fielder made a remarkable catch over the wall to rob Fernando Tatis Jr. of a home run that fooled just about everyone in  T-Mobile Park during the fourth inning of Seattle’s 2-0 victory on Tuesday night -- so much so that Tatis began his trademark trot around the bases and the Padres fans in the house began cheering.

Even Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims echoed on the ROOT Sports telecast that “he did not get it” before erupting in surprise.

Only at that point, after taking roughly a dozen paces back toward the infield, did the wide-smiling Rodríguez channel his inner Cheshire Cat by opening his glove while resting it on his left shoulder to reveal the ball.

“It just kind of happened in the moment,” Rodríguez said of the fake-out. “Obviously, me and Tatis are really good friends. And for him being the one that hit it, it was just kind of like, ‘Man, I got you.’ I wasn’t expecting him to be almost at third when I caught it, but it was a really nice play. We didn’t cross paths. But I definitely saw the reaction from a lot of people.

“For me, I thought everybody knew that I caught it. But I was walking back and was like, ‘OK, I feel like nobody really sees it.’ Even the umpire was waiting on it to see it. He was right there. That was kind of cool.”

Celebratory smoke erupted from beyond center field. The home fans roared. And Tatis looked out at his friend and fellow Dominican Republic native absolutely stunned before slowly pacing back to the visiting dugout. 

“I knew he caught it,” Tatis said. “I know him very well. But, [shoot]. ... I just knew he was going to try to do something like that, but I saw it go into his glove. Yeah, he got everybody."

The ball left Tatis’ bat at 108.7 mph, traveled a projected 410 feet and would’ve been a homer in 18 ballparks, per Statcast. But Rodríguez -- who relishes making a home run robbery more than any athletic feat on a baseball field -- ensured that it didn’t. 

“That’s Julio,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “This guy does commercials.”

The robbery was sandwiched between two other impressive -- and completely different -- catches early in the game. Rodríguez ran inward to convert a sliding snag in the third against Garrett Cooper on a ball that had a .560 expected batting average. Although Rodríguez  ranks in the 99th percentile in outs above average, inward catches have been his most challenging. 

Rodríguez also made a racing grab in the gap on a 102.7 mph line drive from Jake Cronenworth in the fifth, this one with a .600 expected batting average. Rodríguez covered 86 feet in 4.6 seconds to convert a play that Statcast projected with just a 40% catch probability.

“The one coming in was definitely the hardest one,” Rodríguez said. “The one in center field, it was a long time hanging out there, and the one running, I trusted that I was going to get there. ... I feel pretty comfortable going in, going side-to-side and going back. I feel like I just haven’t gotten as many chances coming in, I would say.”

For the season, Rodríguez entered play leading all MLB outfielders with 11 outs above average. His outfielder jump ranks in the 80th percentile, his arm strength is in the 93rd and his sprint speed is in the 97th.

Rodríguez’s glove has been solid all year, but it has been his bat that’s begun to catch up. As the Mariners have won 11 of their past 13 to pull within two games of the final AL Wild Card spot, Rodríguez has 11 extra-base hits, 11 RBIs and 12 runs scored.

He ripped a 106.8 mph single in the first inning then a 111.4 mph double in the fifth and is now 21-for-57 in this stretch, good for a slash line of .368/.410/.737 (1.147 OPS).

After an up-and-down first half, it seems like the Mariners’ best player is back to playing his best.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re hot,” Rodríguez said. “I just feel like we’re doing what we need to do and we’re doing what we’re capable of.”