* RP John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) lost his closer's job with the Milwaukee Brewers this April, yet through a deadline day deal he's now with the St. Louis Cardinals ... and now in the World Series. ....
By Bob Elliott
BOSTON _ Nicole Axford had the premonition during 2011 National League Championship Series.
Her husband John Axford was closing games for the Milwaukee Brewers against the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2011 post-season play.
“You know some day you will pitch for the Cardinals,” Nicole told John.
Seated at a table on media day dressed in cardinal red and navy blue, wearing No. 34 underneath his St. Louis Cardinals warm-up jacket, Axford laughed at the flashback.
“I told my wife no way, we’re in the same division,” said Axford.
On Aug. 30 at the non-waiver trade deadline the Brewers shipped Axford to St. Louis for reliever Michael Blazek.
“After I was told I’d been traded by (manager) Ron Roenicke I called my wife, but I don’t remember if there was an I-told-you-so,’ moment,” said the Port Dover resident who now lives in Ancaster.
Now Axford, an elder statesman of the relief corps at age 30 along with lefty Randy Choate, 37, will be in the right field bullpen Wednesday night as the Cardinals open the 109th best-of-seven World Series against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
When he was closing for the Brewers, Axford wore a Rollie Fingers-like moustache and other versions, so who better to ask about the Boston Red Beards?
“They’ve got some good ones going,” said Axford. “Some are thinking ahead to Halloween.”
The Brewers were in Pittsburgh when Roenicke told Axford he had been traded. Since Milwaukee was leaving town and the Cardinals were coming into PNC Park, he could have stayed in the same locker. Axford chose to fly to Milwaukee and then return to Pittsburgh.
“Pitching for the Brewers ... that seems as like it was another season, we had the WBC, the build up to opening day,” said Axford. “It took time to be accepted here, probably more on my part.
“But I felt a part of the team jumping around hugging guys after we eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers.”
Axford pitched a scoreless 11th inning in the Cardinals 1-0 13-inning win in Game 1 and allowed a solo home run to Adrien Gonzalez in Game 5.
Cardinals Trevor Rosenthal is 23 years of age. Helping bridge the gap from starters to closer are Seth Maness, 24, Kevin Siegrist, 23, and Carlos Martinez 21.
“What John Axford gives us in the bullpen is a guy with a lot of playoff experience,” said Cardinals Game 4 starter Lance Lynn. “We needed that with the young bullpen we have, he keeps them on their toes.”
Axford saved three games in the 2011 post season, one game against the Arizona Diamondbacks and two against the Cardinals.
“With Milwaukee we’d see them bring up a kid and a guy in our bullpen from triple-A Nashville would say ‘wait until you see this guy, we saw him at Memphis,’” said Axford. “Obviously, they’re doing something right in the minor-league system.”
Axford was the player rep for the Brewers and a popular player. He said he’s only heard from one Milwaukee teammate since the trade. And he isn’t saying who. He has heard from plenty of people in the Milwaukee community since the trade wishing him luck and former Canisus College coach Mike McRae too. Axford had spent three years at Notre Dame, undergoing Tommy John surgery before transferring to the Buffalo school.
When Axford broke into the Brewers bullpen under manager Ken Macha, closer Trevor Hoffman (601 career saves) helped him learn when to warm up, how not to waste pitches in the bullpen yet to make sure he’s ready.
“I watch (St. Louis young relievers), might talk to them about something after a game,” Axford said. “How if a guy hits a two-run homer we’re tied and you’re in the game. These guys are young but they have a professionalism about them. Watching them is fun. Heck watching Siegrist play catch on flat ground is fun.
“Martinez throws very easy, loose and then the ball explodes. Rosenthal has a short release. I try not to notice if I am warming up on the mound beside them. I watch them when they warm up.”
From across the diamond for years Axford was impressed by catcher Yadier Molina.
“He has all those gold gloves, platinum gloves too, it was obvious he could handle the game,” said Axford, who hasn’t shook off a Molina signal once since arriving. “He has the ability to come to the mound and slow everything down, he is so calm.
“We’ll get to the dugout and he’ll say ‘I didn’t like your curveball in warm ups, so I didn’t call it.’ OK.” Axford has been a Cardinal for seven weeks.
Axford knows about the Cardinal way.
“It’s about doing things the right way. The Cardinals are bigger than an individual.”