BROCK AND SALK

The magnetism Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez has is ‘unique’ in MLB

Sep 14, 2022, 12:38 PM | Updated: 1:53 pm
Mariners Julio Rodriguez...
Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his home run during the ninth inning against the Atlanta Braves at T-Mobile Park on September 11, 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners’ biggest win of the year entering this past weekend was probably the 13-inning classic against the New York Yankees. But Sunday’s walkoff winner over the reigning World Series champion Atlanta Braves likely has taken the cake.

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It seemed like it would be a pretty easy win for the Mariners at first as they entered the ninth inning up 6-2, but thanks to walks and two home runs, Atlanta entered the bottom of the ninth with a stunning 7-6 lead.

But as the Mariners were heading back to the dugout after being knocked down, cameras panned to star rookie center fielder Julio Rodríguez. He showcased his big smile, and, of course, hit a laser home run to tie the game off veteran reliever Kenley Jansen.

Two batters later, Eugenio Suárez delivered the knockout blow, sending the Braves packing with an 8-7 loss in the game, and a series defeat, as well.

Rodríguez has been a huge topic of conversation for Brock and Salk on Seattle Sports 710 AM this week.

“How cool is Julio?” Mike Salk asked Tuesday morning.

Huard said he “melted down” and was shaking after Seattle surrendered the four-run lead in the ninth inning.

“I threw my hat. I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “But thank goodness, Julio is not wired like me, and he’s not wired like many athletes, and he’s not wired like anybody. And he jogged off that field knowing he’s going to be the second one at-bat and he was going to be the difference – a mix of just athletic arrogance with a just a self-confidence and belief that’s unique. Unique.”

That confidence and belief was apparent to his teammates as well. Suárez made note of that after his walkoff homer.

“When they made that comeback, it’s kinda like everybody came down,” he said postgame. “… When we get into the dugout and Julio starts yelling at everybody like that, ‘We got a game going on and never give up,’ that energy makes us compete. We know Jansen’s one of the best closers in the league, but we got a real good team. We’ve got people that can do something on this team and we just did it.”

Said Salk: “So they get back to the dugout, and it’s Julio, the 21-year-old kid, who is the one telling them to (never give up). … And with Marco (Gonzales) having started that game, I found myself thinking back about two months ago, when Marco Gonzales said this about Julio.”

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“I think he’s the best player I’ve ever seen, for sure the best player I’ve ever played with,” Gonzales told reporters after a win in June. “… He’s just an absolute blast to play with. He’s having so much fun. He brings a spark to our clubhouse and I love watching him play. So I’m glad he’s on my team.”

Huard, who was born and raised in the greater-Seattle area, couldn’t help but think about Rodríguez in the same way that he and other Washington natives thought about Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.

“I could just imagine kids all over the state doing the same thing with Julio’s swing. … ‘Let me just emulate how he does that with his elbow, and he brings his elbow in,’ and then he drives his legs and he hits it 117 mph. And he just dents the scoreboard out in left field in the biggest moment of the game to respond.,'” Huard said.

Huard thinks Rodríguez, like Griffey, is a culture-changing player.

“(When) 24 was in center field, that kid, he exorcised a lot of demons. There was just a lot of ‘Ah, the Mariners. Oh, the Mariners are playing tee ball again. Oh, expansion Mariners just walked over by everybody.’ And then (Griffey) just brought a sense of bravado and arrogance and confidence, like, nope, we’re good. We’re good,” he said. ” … Mariners fans know how many times you’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop. … And (Rodríguez) says, ‘No, no, no. That’s done. That’s over. That’s history.’ We’re talking about the future. We’re talking about locking this guy up forever for a reason, because he’s changed that belief system in that dugout, and my goodness gracious that was special.”

Added Salk: “It did feel different. It was to me the best of this year, even bigger than the win over the Yankees in 13 innings, because of the way it went down and because Julio featured so prominently in the way it happened. This is him assuming the mantle, right? This is Julio becoming everything that he is projected to be. He’s gotten the contract, he’s wowed his teammates, he’s picking them up, he’s shocking the league, and he did it all (Sunday) when the Mariners absolutely needed it.”

Julio “the heartbeat” of “fun” Mariners team

As they do every week, Brock and Salk caught up with ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan Wednesday morning, and, naturally, the talk centered around Rodríguez for a lot of the conversation.

Passan, who resides in Kansas City, said the Mariners “might be the team I find myself watching the most late at night.”

“The Mariners are just a fun team to watch, and Julio is the heartbeat. He’s still just a kid – we have to remember he’s only 21 years old, and that is both shocking with the way that he carries himself and plays the game, and incredibly exciting for any Seattle fan to know that for the next decade-plus he is going to be on your television screen 162 days a year,” Passan said. “Like, how cool is that?”

And not since Griffey have the Mariners had a player with the kind of star power and charisma that Rodríguez has.

“It’s magnetism. It’s just inherent, pure magnetism,” Passan said. “He’s got that air about him in the way he carries himself, in the way he plays baseball, and the way he smiles. You’re just looking at him and it’s just like, I want to hang out with this guy. He’s a presence. And you do not teach that. People either have it or they don’t, and the vast, vast, vast majority don’t.”

Rodríguez may be a rookie, but he’s already among the game’s elite as he’s in the top 15 in MLB in WAR, played in the All-Star Game and nearly won the Home Run Derby. But even at just 21, does he have more magnetism than other top MLB stars?

“I mean, let’s look at the best players in baseball this year,” Passan said. “Aaron Judge? No. Paul Goldschmidt? No. Nolan Arenado? No. Manny Machado? No. Mookie Betts? Mookie Betts kind of has it a little bit.”

“I don’t like using this word because I’m a middle-aged white guy, but there’s some swag to it, right?” he added. “And Julio is replete with swag. There’s an elemental thing there with him. I’m telling you, man, it’s rare. So no, I don’t know, Brock, that any of the other best players in baseball come with that same vibe that he does.”

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