J-Rod soaks in 'surreal' ASG -- storybook ending or not

July 12th, 2023

SEATTLE -- The stage was set for Seattle’s biggest star, the stakes as high as could be for an All-Star Game in his city. Two outs. Bottom of the ninth. Stepping up to the plate as the potential winning run, with the chance to smash a walk-off homer on the game's biggest non-postseason stage.

Alas, didn’t rip the long ball that everyone who packed the stands at T-Mobile Park was anticipating, but he did work a seven-pitch walk that set up the Guardians' José Ramírez to continue the rally ... only to see J-Ram strike out to hand the American League a 3-2 loss, its first Midsummer Classic defeat since 2012.

“Oh, definitely I was trying to win it, honestly,” Rodríguez said. “But given the situation, I had to pass the baton. Once I saw the guy get to first, my thought was, 'just get a good pitch to drive and let's try to win this game.' But I had to pass the baton.”

Even AL manager Dusty Baker was convinced that the storybook ending would write itself into reality.

“I was just thinking, ‘Hey, man, he would bring the house down -- and the whole baseball world -- and the town.’” Baker said. “This was a moment that very rarely is going to happen in your life. I always wanted to play in an All-Star Game in my hometown, and it never happened. But I mean that was quite a -- it was all set up. ... I just knew it was going to happen, but it didn't.”

Though it was an anticlimactic finish, the moment also could’ve ended far more disappointingly, considering that Rodríguez has typically found himself pressing in the highest-stakes situations this year after thriving in them throughout his epic rookie season in 2022.

Rodríguez slowing things down and not swinging at ball four on an off-plate fastball from Phillies reliever Craig Kimbrel with a full count was precisely the type of approach that the Mariners have wanted to see from Rodríguez in Year 2.

“It meant the world just kind of having the opportunity to kind of step [up to] the plate again with a chance to do something special,” Rodríguez said. “The crowd knew, everybody kind of felt it in the building, and it was pretty surreal, the energy that they were sending down.”

Rodríguez struck out against Giants closer Camilo Doval in his first at-bat in the seventh inning, capping an otherwise quiet night for the hometown star.

Teammate George Kirby pitched the fourth inning, surrendering a leadoff double to the Dodgers' J.D. Martinez in a 1-2 count off a hanging breaking ball, then a first-pitch RBI single to Miami's Luis Arraez before getting out of the inning when Arraez was caught stealing.

Luis Castillo, who thought he had a chance to start the game, wound up not pitching at all, though Baker said there was a reason behind that.

“I had his manager sitting right next to me,” Baker said of Seattle’s Scott Servais, evoking laughter. “You know what I mean? So he was kind of in an emergency situation. That's the only reason. He pitched [on Saturday] against us in our ballpark.”

So, while the Mariners’ three All-Stars didn’t provide star-studded production, it was still a huge day for them -- especially in their own city.

“Oh, my God, it was unbelievable,” Rodríguez said. “That was an unbelievable feeling. I would say we’ve had the playoff games, all that, but there was just something different of having, like, an event-based crowd. It was just unbelievable to have all the stars here and the energy that the fans brought, like it was unbelievable what they did. Seattle definitely showed out.”