Julio, and no one else, beats the Royals 6-4

Lately I’ve been having a hard time enjoying some of the stories I usually enjoy. Stories of cosmic horror and grandeur, fantastical journeys and madness, are my typical preference, particularly when these stories contain the concerted efforts of many to overcome or prevent an evil or excessive few. But sometimes I feel low or just disconnected, and the doctor ordered a story of individual heroism, a reminder that Big Sean was right and that Merle and Willie’s wishes are, if only for a few, a possibility. It is that magnanimity, that extraordinary ability and ability to go beyond what seems possible to others, especially when everyone else has fallen. It’s through that lens that Julio Rodríguez has provided exactly the heroics the Seattle Mariners needed to win 6-4 and take three of four from the lowly Kansas City Royals.

This morning’s baseball looked ripe for a chance to take on the woeful Royals, but like the rest of this series, little came easy. A leadoff single by Julio that reached second on a throwing error gave Seattle an early threat, but the M’s couldn’t capitalize on 23-year-old Angel Zerpa, a semi-starter. In the second, a hit by pitch and a bunt single put Jose Caballero and Cade Marlowe on third and first, bringing up Julio once again, now with two outs. In a mirror of last night’s in-out instructions, Rodríguez nailed it, showing Seattle the way to a 1-0 lead. With George Kirby facing, perhaps, teeth, that would be enough.

Instead, Kirby wavered. A solo shot to Nelson Velazquez in the 4th before a devastating sixth inning that drove in three more runs. That extended the KC lead to 4-2, overtaking the second run Rodríguez had hurled across the plate on a gravity beta-testing drive off his bat at over 110 mph. It should have been 4-3, but Canzone, like Isaac Newton before the apple tree, was unable to fully capture the ball’s flight, with a poor leap that saw him caught at the plate.

On a day when only one other team with a bearing on the M’s playoff chase — the lurking Boston Red Sox — took the field, Seattle could only have made so much trouble or made up so much ground. But splitting four with a team on a 110-game losing streak isn’t a recipe for making the uphill battle to chase a playoff spot any easier. A bullpen that bowed repeatedly under heavy use last week was finally the studs, with Isaiah Campbell, Trent Thornton and Matt Brash going the final three frames without a run. But Brash’s presence in the 9th was only needed after Seattle retook the lead. And by Seattle, I of course mean Julio.

Like Escanor, undisturbed, walking before the helpless Holy Knights with a smile, Rodrigues, an anime fan himself, stepped to the plate in the top of the 8th with one out, Marlowe again on second with a double and Canzone a hard walk to left. In came the Royals’ lone reliever of any proven ability after the trade deadline, Carlos Hernández, a shortstop who had been touched on Monday but entered on two days’ rest. The leverage was high, especially in that the power carried by Rodríguez through his bat leverage sent the first pitch he saw, 97 into his hands, where teams attacked him all year before diving low and away on sliders. left field stands so high it took an age to get down.

Canzone’s hesitation was erased. Sean Casey’s impression of Dylan Moore on a ball that he misread as it was caught in left field was voided. Julio’s pickoff earlier in the game was eliminated. The slop smeared on that game’s epitaph was ejected by the 110.5 mph meteor blast. Rodríguez showed it with an attitude and approach that shows his famous ability to adapt and improve that has made him a great player at such a young age. Where he spent so much of the first half of the season trying to live up to the massive expectations of his franchise targets and his lack of efforts to improve on the outside this winter, the last few days, weeks and months have been superstars carrying the M’s over the top. ​from the sea to the promised land last year, and maybe he can again.

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