Crawford hits slam, scores on walk-off hit

Haniger's 10th-inning game-winner secures series win for Seattle

June 20th, 2021

has been playing the best baseball of his life. With his glove, his bat and his speed, Crawford keeps finding ways to dazzle. On Saturday night, he may have outdone himself.

Crawford hit his first career grand slam and scored on a 10th-inning, walk-off hit from Mitch Haniger in the Mariners' 6-5 win at T-Mobile Park. After a night like Saturday, it’s no surprise, then, that his teammates are lobbying for him to play in a certain exhibition game.

“That guy needs to be an All-Star,” said starter Logan Gilbert. “He’s unreal. Best shortstop I’ve probably ever played with.”

Gilbert is far from the only person who believes Crawford should play in the Midsummer Classic. Following the game, manager Scott Servais revealed that his father has been voting for Crawford every day, as well.

“I passed that along to J.P. today, he got a good kick out of it,” Servais said. “But he’s certainly playing like an All-Star. There’s no question about it.”

All-Stars have a knack for producing in big-time spots, and Crawford certainly checked that box Saturday.

When Crawford came to the plate with the bases loaded in the second inning, the Mariners were close to wasting a golden opportunity. Seattle had loaded the bases with no outs and was poised to put up a crooked number, but Jake Fraley and Shed Long Jr. struck out swinging. The Mariners needed Crawford to come through, and come through he did.

Crawford turned on an 0-1 sinker down in the zone and just barely got it over the right-field fence. With a launch angle of just 16 degrees and tied for the lowest launch angle on a home run this season, no one really thought it was going to leave the park.

Servais thought it was going to bang off the wall. Crawford was just hoping the right fielder wouldn’t catch it. Josh Fleming, who surrendered the homer, didn’t think it was going out. But with an exit velocity of 109.1 mph, Crawford’s hardest-hit ball this season, and some backspin to boot, the ball cleared the fence.

“Crawford’s been doing some big things this series against us,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “He’s played great defensively and come up with some big knocks.”

If Crawford electrified the crowd once with his power, he’d do so again with his speed. In the bottom of the 10th, Mitch Haniger turned on the first pitch he saw and smacked it into left field. Crawford read it perfectly and scored easily.

Nights like Saturday are quickly becoming the norm for Crawford, a significant development given his past production. Crawford’s defensive prowess has always been apparent -- Servais called him the best defender in the league -- but Crawford had never been a league-average hitter in any season. In 2021, fueled by a red-hot June, Crawford is on pace for career highs across the board.

“He’s been awesome,” Haniger said. “Every night brings energy and you know what you’re going to get out of him. You’re going to get Gold Glove-caliber defense. He’s been swinging the bat really well, swinging at good pitches, hitting the ball hard. From at-bat to at-bat, every time he goes up there, you’re just expecting something loud off his bat. It’s been fun to watch.”

For Crawford, the grand slam was all the more significant given the context.

Juneteenth has been recognized for a century-and-a-half, but this is the first time in United States’ history that the day has been recognized as a federal holiday. Seattle celebrated the occasion by, for one day, changing its name to the Steelheads and donning replica jerseys, paying homage to the Negro Leagues team that played a lone season in 1946 as part of the West Coast Negro Baseball League.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those guys who passed down before us, and if they didn’t take all that criticism and hate, we wouldn’t be here,” Crawford said. “We've got to salute them all the time, and not just one day, I think. We've got to do something way more every week to represent and really know where we come from.”

The gravity of the grand slam could be felt while watching Crawford round the bases. He yelled and pumped his first while rounding first base, triumphantly slapped himself on the chest as he strode to home plate, then slammed forearms with Tom Murphy, Jake Bauers and Dylan Moore. Crawford said the homer “hit a little different” because of the occasion, and that he’s keeping the jersey.

“I’m taking that home and framing that,” Crawford said.