'Everybody is watching': J-Rod hits game-winning HR
SEATTLE -- Dave Sims summed it up succinctly during Seattle’s broadcast, capturing the Mariners' mania surrounding their rookie prodigy after his latest heroics, a seismic, three-run, go-ahead and game-sealing homer during the seventh inning of a 4-2 win against Texas.
“What a world to live in with Julio Rodríguez!” shouted the longtime Mariners’ play-by-play broadcaster as the rookie rounded third base following his 18th home run, a 416-foot moonshot that hung for 6.1 awe-inspiring seconds, allowing Sims and the rest of the 25,509 at T-Mobile Park to leap out of their seats for Rodríguez’s latest act.
Indeed, Sims reiterated what has become increasingly clear in this breakout rookie season: It’s Rodríguez’s world, and we’re all just living in it.
“Those moments, everybody is on their feet,” Rodríguez said. “Everybody is watching. I just love those moments. If you’re not ready to perform in those moments, then you’re not going to be having the best fun playing this game.”
After missing four games with left wrist soreness to begin the second half, the All-Star rookie homered for the second time in 24 hours, underscoring the value of his run production. Yet if Tuesday represented more shock-and-awe by quieting his health concerns with a solo shot in his first at-bat, Wednesday encapsulated his blossoming ability to relish -- and deliver -- in the clutch. How, at just 21 years old, is he able to do so with such poise?
“Honestly, just focusing on what matters the most,” Rodríguez said. “It’s just me and the pitcher and focusing on what he’s about to throw and what I’m about to hit. I try to keep things as simple as I can, not try to think too much in those situations right there, and just go with the flow and not make the situation bigger than it is.”
If it wasn’t already evident by a deep fly against AL Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander in May progressing towards a game-sealing grand slam in Arlington two weeks ago and culminating with the coming-out-party performance in the Home Run Derby, Wednesday’s game-sealing homer illustrated that no moment seems to be too big.
“He continues to be Julio,” manager Scott Servais said. “For him, it’s just like playing with a bunch of 10, 11-year-olds on a sandlot somewhere and it’s his turn to get a hit, he does what he does. He doesn’t try to overthink it. He’s ready to hit every pitch. So when there is a mistake, he’s ready to jump on it.”
Such was the case on Wednesday’s latest victim to The J-Rod Show, Rangers starter Jon Gray, who had retired Rodríguez in each of his first three at-bats. Then, after Cal Raleigh walked and Sam Haggerty lined a hustle double with one out, Rodríguez stepped to the plate. But first, he indulged in some superstition.
“As he’s standing there, ready to go up for that at-bat, he says, ‘I had to switch bats,’” Servais recounted. “I said, ‘Oh, you got a new one?’ and he says, ‘Yeah, the other one is sleeping. It’s a day game. He’s not ready to go.’"
Rodríguez swapped the lumber that led to an 0-for-3 showing to start the game for one that was the same size and weight, but a lighter, more maple color. The new wood didn’t remain in his hands for long, getting the jubilant bat flip treatment down the first-base line immediately after his 18th homer left the barrel.
“Same situation, but with a different result,” Rodríguez said, outlining that he’s continuing to learn how to attack pitchers in high-leverage moments. “So I feel like going through those situations at first definitely opened my eyes, and I can figure out different ways to go about it.”
As his persona -- and feats -- go mainstream beyond Seattle, Rodríguez has seemingly turned his teammates and coaches numb to his incredible acts. Many of them have seen it in Spring Training each of the past three years when he was a top prospect, including Wednesday’s starting pitcher, Marco Gonzales, who is the second-longest-tenured Mariner.
“I think he’s the best player I’ve ever seen,” Gonzales said. “He’s for sure the best player I’ve ever played with.”
Rodríguez’s heroics on Wednesday helped Seattle secure a three-game sweep and the club’s 25th win in its past 31 games, an MLB-best. As such, the Mariners (54-45) hold the second AL Wild Card spot.
“We’re winning -- that’s all that matters,” Rodríguez said. “As long as we keep winning, we’re definitely going to keep having fun.”