(Photo credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports)
Julio Rodriguez is unquestionably the Seattle Mariners' star.
But the player the Mariners most want at the plate in a clutch situation is J.P. Crawford.
Crawford hit a grand slam Friday night in an 8-0 victory against the visiting Texas Rangers, helping the Mariners tighten the American LeagueWest race heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
Entering Saturday's game at T-Mobile Park, the Mariners (87-73) are two games back of the division-leading Rangers (89-71) and a game behind Houston in the chase for the AL's third and final wild-card berth.
The Mariners still have a chance to claim the division title if they finish in a three-way tie with the Rangers and Astros.
"We still need a little help, but we have the opportunity to take care of ourselves here," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "We've got to just focus on (Saturday) and continue to have really good at-bats up and down that lineup. That's what happened (Friday). And then we got a couple of hits with runners in scoring position and that does help."
Ty France and Josh Rojas also homered, and six Seattle pitchers combined on a three-hitter with 12 strikeouts.
But it was Crawford who came up biggest for the second consecutive night.
In the series opener Thursday, Crawford hit a walk-off, two-run double with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to give Seattle a 3-2 victory.
His grand slam in the fourth inning on Friday doubled the Mariners' advantage to 8-0. It was Crawford's 19th homer of the season, more than doubling his previous career-high of nine.
"He has been so good in those situations all year long," Servais said. "You've got to make the pitcher come to you. You don't chase, you don't get too amped up, wanting to be the hero. Just let the game come to you. And the last two nights, he's been the hero."
In 16 at-bats with the bases loaded this season, Crawford has 11 hits with two homers and 26 RBIs.
"It's just not giving an at-bay away," Crawford said of his approach. "Any time there's a chance to do damage or just a chance to kill that pulse a little bit for the other team, you've got to take advantage of that."
The Rangers couldn't clinch a playoff berth for the second straight night.
Texas drew eight walks but went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12.
"We set the table, but we just couldn't cash in," Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. "One hit maybe gets things rolling and we couldn't do it."
Left-hander Andrew Heaney (10-6, 4.28 ERA) is scheduled to make his first start since Sept. 4 for the Rangers on Saturday against Seattle right-hander Luis Castillo (14-8, 3.20). He threw a scoreless inning in relief on Thursday.
Castillo had a streak of eight straight victories snapped with a 5-1 loss Monday against Houston, in which he allowed five runs on eight hits in six innings.
Castillo has lost twice to the Rangers this season in his only career appearances against them. He suffered a 4-3 defeat May 10 in Seattle when he allowed three runs over five innings. On June 2 in Arlington, Texas, he gave up one run in seven innings of a 2-0 loss.
Heaney is 4-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 19 career appearances against the Mariners, with 17 starts.
--Field Level Media