ARLINGTON, Texas — If you’ve listened closely enough in the stunned silence of Globe Life Field as the deafening music had died down and most of the 26,494 fans watching as the 21-year-old phenomenon watched, you’ll have years to come at the 24-hour bases , was the raspy, unforgettable baritone voice of days gone by.
It could be heard in the homes of Mariners fans across the Pacific Northwest and in far flung places where believers in “Sodo Mojo,” “Refuse To Lose,” “Two Outs?” So what” and a little bit of that old-school religion.
When Julio Rodriguez unloaded a 3-2 fastball from Jose Leclerc in the eighth inning and sent a towering flyball over the midfield wall to score the Mariners’ first grand slam of the season to convert a one-run nail biter into what an easy 8-3 win would be – their 12th straight – Mariners fans of all ages and abilities knew Dave Niehaus somewhere in jubilant cheer yelled, “Bring out the rye bread and mustard, grandma, because it’s big salami time!”
“In this situation, the fans got involved,” said Rodriguez. “That was a really big moment in the game. Being able to assert myself for the team was my top priority. It was pretty good actually being able to do it.”
You could hear it. You could feel it. you missed it The voice a reminder of better times. The man would have navigated this season’s emotional highs, lows and unexpected highs as only he could, and we would have known it by the tone in that voice that reminds you of summer.
Well, Niehaus was in the rookie season of the Mariners’ first Superstar, Ken Griffey Jr., and he would have appreciated the similarities in the up-and-coming Mariners’ Superstar’s rookie season.
Damn, Dave would have loved Julio.
He would have loved him for everything we have seen so far, for everything he could be and for everything he will mean to this city, this fan base and this organization in the years to come.
“I don’t know what else to say about a 21-year-old,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais. “It’s a pleasure to watch him. He really is. It’s how he plays the game and the intensity with which he plays and the level of competitiveness. It was great to watch.”
His teammates are no longer surprised by his attitude and they expect the performance.
“What’s really impressive is that he doesn’t let the moment get bigger than it is,” said Mariners starter Robbie Ray. “In that situation, with bases loaded and a one lead and a 3-2 count, he’s getting a good top rail fastball, a competitive field. To do what he did, it’s just really special to see him play day after day.”
A man of few words on most occasions, Ray has gushed about Rodriguez all season. He knows this just doesn’t happen with beginners.
“The poise that he’s got out there, he carries himself really well, he’s super humble and he works really hard,” Ray said. “He prepares for those moments. And it’s really fun to watch.”
Circumstances were not bleak to continue the Mariners’ winning streak. For much of Friday night, the win seemed like an afterthought as Ray chopped up five shutout innings with lively variations on his two fastballs and a nasty series of hitters.
“That’s probably the best thing I’ve felt all year,” Ray said. “I really needed those two pitches tonight, the slider was ok. But the two-seam game and the four-seam game played really well tonight. I’ve had a lot of success with it.”
His teammates, including Rodriguez, provided the running support with a 4-0 lead going into the sixth inning.
But Ray made a mistake by Corey Seager, leaving his only curveball of the night over the plate. It led to a solo homer in the sixth inning. In a seventh inning he couldn’t quite finish, Ray homered with two outs and two runs to Leody Taveras, who cut the lead to 4-3.
Ray was still brilliant, working 6 2/3 innings and allowing the three runs with six hits with 12 strikeouts and no walks to go 8-6.
One night after recovering from a four-run deficit in their biggest win of the season, would the Mariners give up a four-run lead and finally lose their first game in weeks despite such dominance?
Baseball can be so cruel.
And it looked like their years of struggles with the loaded bases could be part of the streak ending.
On one run, the Mariners loaded the bases with no outs against right-hander AJ Alexy on a single from Cal Raleigh and back-to-back four-pitch walks against Adam Frazier and Abraham Toro. A run of any kind could make life easier for the Mariners’ bullpen. Two runs and it would probably read, “We’re still streakin'”.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward brought in Leclerc, the Rangers who have once delved into a variety of arm problems, to help pull them out of trouble. With his nasty changeup and slider, Leclerc knocked out Dylan Moore and Sam Haggerty.
Rodriguez went to the plate. His plan remained the same: find a field, preferably a fastball, up in the zone and unleash hell. He wouldn’t give in to Leclerc’s slider for a hip strike or chase a switch at his feet. A fastball down was called for a strike two, which he disagreed with. Leclerc tried to get him to chase away with two sliders. These might have worked in the first month of the season. But he “spit” at her for balls.
At 3-2, knowing Leclerc didn’t want to run, he waited for the fastball and got it.
“I just wanted to stay true to myself and just keep looking up,” he said. “I was able to capitalize.”
His first career Grand Slam was his 16thth homer of the season and he finished with a career high-five RBI.
“That’s as good as you’ll see,” Servais said. “It’s great to see a young talent like this take off and the looks in our dugout as that ball went over the fences were like, ‘Did he really do that?'”
He has. And it won’t be the last time.