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Only The Fragility Of The Human Body Can Slow Down Julio Rodríguez

2:08 PM EDT on August 22, 2023

Julio Rodríguez during the Chicago White Sox game, notably not geared up to play
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

If I had tuned into any Mariners game from Aug. 16 to Aug. 19, I would have watched Julio Rodríguez get at least four hits. Unfortunately I tuned in last night, when J-Rod was having a rest day. A rest day!

I suppose I don't begrudge any baseball players their rest days, especially at this point of the season—August is the cruelest month, as T. S. Eliot famously did not say. But I was watching last night's game because I missed the bulk of Rodríguez's hot streak, which included an absurd 17 hits over a four-game stretch, and I wanted to watch him continue it, even against the White Sox. Instead I'd just tricked myself into watching the Mariners bat around Touki Toussaint in the first inning to go up 5-0 without him, and then it got worse. Not that there would've been any changes on the White Sox side of things if Rodríguez were there—maybe the game would've ended 16-2 in favor of the Mariners rather than 14-2.

This past Wednesday, when the Mariners played against the Kansas City Royals—admittedly the ideal team to face if you want to start getting hot—Rodríguez went 4-for-6 with a double and two stolen bases, including a steal of third that gave him 30 steals on the year. He immediately followed up that performance by going 5-for-5 the next day, with some defensive assistance on the fourth hit, after which the broadcast mused, "He's got his chance for his first-ever five-hit game." In his next at-bat, he absolutely smashed a first-pitch homer that gave him that first-ever five-hit game. Even the ever-impressive Astros were incapable of stopping him. He went 4-for-5 on Friday, including three hits and another homer against J.P. France, who has had a sub-three ERA this season. It's remarkable that Rodríguez's worst game of a four-game stretch was his last one, where he went merely 4-for-6 with a steal.

The AL or NL Player of the Week award has always been odd to me. I've internalized it as some social media thing, but it is a real award given out by the league and even predates the Silver Slugger. It's not so baffling on concept—you look at the past week and you pick the guy that's been the coolest, which is why Shohei Ohtani has won the AL version three times this year—but it's not the kind of award that'll appear on a category on Immaculate Grid; it's much too fickle for that, which is why Ohtani is the only player to have won Player of the Week three times this year. At its core, it's an encapsulation of a hot streak in a league where any guy can put together a hot streak, the same way that any guy can go on a cold streak.

So Rodríguez recorded zero hits on zero at-bats last night because of his (ugh) rest day, and the game before that he'd gone a mere 1-for-5 at the plate against the Houston Astros, but the four games before that, he could barely make an out if he tried. He broke a nearly century-old MLB record for most hits in a four-game span with 17—the previous record-holder was named Milt Stock and racked up 16 with the Brooklyn Robins in 1925—and helped drag the Mariners into the Wild Card race even after the Mariners traded away their closer at the deadline (again). All of this was more than enough to win him AL Player of the Week.

For a player like Rodríguez, a stellar week like that doesn't come out of nowhere. He's a great defender, and he runs fast and smashes the ball hard, so even when you look at the sheer number of infield hits he got by beating out the throw during his rampage, you can't chalk it up to luck. Also, he seems like a great guy. But to be the best player in baseball for a week, you need more than consistency. You need a little bit of luck and/or magic. You need to be Shohei Ohtani facing the Detroit Tigers, Michael Lorenzen throwing a no-hitter in his first ever home start with the Phillies. I've probably thought way more about Yermín Mercedes recently than anybody really should in the year 2023, but it's a similar kind of pocket wonder, one that you need just as much fortune to bear witness. Blink, and you'll miss it entirely.

If J-Rod doesn't play tonight, I'm going to lose my shit!

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