Axford picks up win, gets warm reception in return
MILWAUKEE -- Just over three weeks after being traded to the Cardinals, reliever John Axford returned to the ballpark that he called home for the first five years of his big league career. The homecoming would turn out to be especially memorable.
In his first appearance against his former team, Axford picked up his first win in the new uniform. Adding to the context, too, was that the losing pitcher in Friday's 7-6 Cardinals win was Michal Blazek, the right-hander the Cardinals dealt to acquire Axford.
Though Axford allowed one inherited runner to score in the ninth, he worked out of a bases-loaded mess with an inning-ending double play.
"Not an easy situation," manager Mike Matheny said afterward. "With all the other things still in play with him coming back here, I thought that might play into his hand, and I thought it did. He was sharp and good. The infield hit and then getting a real big double-play ball for us, it was pretty impressive about how he can maintain and do that under that kind of pressure."
Added Axford: "My first Cardinal win coming against the team that I just played for -- definitely a fantastic win and it's big for our team."
Axford had last pitched at Miller Park on Aug. 21, throwing two scoreless innings against -- of all teams -- the Cardinals. It was at the end of the Brewers' following road trip that Axford learned he'd be joining a pennant race in St. Louis. The timing of that trade allowed Axford no time to clean out his locker at Miller Park, which meant that one of the items on his to-do list this weekend was to stop by and gather a few of those items he left behind -- namely his stash of candy and baseball mementos.
Otherwise, the right-hander was trying to treat this road stop little different than he would any other.
"It's really not that awkward," he said. "I was over there for a few years. I had some great times over there, but obviously things change in this game. I've enjoyed my first almost four weeks with this team already quite a bit and I think I'm fitting in here quite well. The team is accepting me quite well. I'm excited to be here."
Axford was intrigued to see what sort of reaction he would receive upon his first appearance here as a Cardinal. When he trotted in from the bullpen in the ninth, there was a mix of cheers and boos. The game circumstance seemingly played a role in that reaction.
Axford was terrific during parts of his time with Milwaukee and helped lead the Brewers to the National League Championship Series with his 46-save season in 2011. Success didn't come so readily in 2012 and 2013, though. Axford lost his job as the team's closer and had a 4.19 ERA at the time of the August trade. Which part of his tenure the Brewers fans dwell on will influence their reception.
"The fan base here is great, but you never know what a reaction is going to be like," said Axford, who has allowed two earned runs in 7 2/3 innings with the Cardinals. "Hopefully they remember [the good]. I'm not sure what the reaction will be -- if it will be mixed, good, bad. But the thing that I'm looking forward to most is getting the Cardinal reaction, because it'll probably be a pretty good contingent here. That'll be fun to get their cheers in this ballpark for the first time."