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Film buff Axford produces perfect Oscar scorecard

Indians' new closer goes 18-for-18 on his Academy Award picks

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- John Axford's love of film has its roots in a feel good story about a father and son. During his childhood, when Axford's dad would hit the road with his boy for youth baseball or hockey tournaments, they would gather movies to watch on their travels.

"Not movies you'd really think a kid is going to like," Axford said with a smile.

Axford recalls his father pulling old westerns from racks in gas stations during fuel stops -- titles such as "Once Upon a Time in the West" or the "Man with No Name" trilogy -- and becoming enthralled with the films. So inspired was Axford that he went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in film and television from Notre Dame.

Now a closer in the big leagues, Axford has carried on the tradition, catching as many titles as he can during road trips and throughout Spring Training. If what transpired on Sunday night is any indication, Axford has graduated from a film aficionado to expert.

Axford went a perfect 18-for-18 in his annual Oscar predictions for the 86th Academy Awards.

"I heard," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I hope he's as good at saves."

That is the goal this season for Axford, who has faced his share of critics over the past two years. Cleveland signed the right-hander to a one-year, $4.5 million contract over the winter and offered him the chance to write the comeback portion of his own story. Axford lost his job as Milwaukee's closer early last year, but he finished the campaign with a solid showing after a trade to the Cardinals.

During his best season, Axford posted a 1.95 ERA and saved 46 games for the Brewers in 2011. Between the '11 and '12 seasons, the right-hander enjoyed a streak of 49 consecutive saves converted. The Indians would love to see that kind of pitcher again.

"He's looking forward to the opportunity to close out games," Francona said, "and kind of maybe prove that he can be more of what he was -- like that year where he had 46 saves. Nothing would be better for us than if he could do that. He's got a live arm. He seems like a great kid."

What Sunday's predictions showed -- aside from the pitcher's ability to gauge Hollywood's awards season -- is that the Indians are not only gaining a new closer, but a new character for its bullpen. Fellow reliever Vinnie Pestano, who is also an avid moviegoer, was wowed with his new teammate's talent.

"That was impressive," Pestano said. "I was watching the Oscars and saw how many times that 'Gravity' had won. For it to win that many things, and for him to be able to pick that movie that many times, it had to be like, 'Is it going to be "Gravity" again?' It might be the clear favorite in a category, but you still want to doubt it. It was definitely impressive."

Axford did not actually tune in to the Oscars on Sunday. The right-hander watched his predictions come to fruition one by one as fans sent him messages on Twitter. Axford posted his picks (he went with 18 predictions, even though the Academy Awards feature 24 categories) on his Facebook and Twitter pages a few hours before the show.

Last year, Axford went 14-for-15 in his predictions, missing only Ang Lee as Best Director for his work on "Life of Pi." Prior to that, Axford said he went 11-for-15 in 2012 and 11-for-13 in '11. He is leaning toward trying to nail all 24 picks next spring.

Axford did not expect to have a perfect score on Sunday night, but his confidence grew when he hit 16 correct selections. At that point, Axford needed Matthew McConaughey to win Best Actor for "Dallas Buyers Club" and "12 Years a Slave" to take home the Best Picture honors.

"When I was finally 16-for-16, I just assumed that I already had it locked," Axford said. "I was pretty sure that McConaughey and '12 Years a Slave' were going to win. I had it for sure. I knew."

On social media, fans were comparing it to throwing a perfect game. In the wake of his pristine predictions, Axford said his follower count on Twitter jumped by more than 2,500 fans. Multiple online outlets posted articles on Sunday night and more than 20 media outlets -- from the United States and Canada -- requested an interview with the Indians.

Axford was surprised by how big the story became overnight.

"It's just Oscar picks," he said. "But I guess it can get some distance."

The most difficult pick for Axford was in the Best Director category, which threatened to disrupt his perfect score for the second year in a row. He admits to pulling for Steve McQueen for "12 Years a Slave," but Axford was blown away by the technical work of Alfonso Cuaron in "Gravity." On top of that, Cuaron directed "Children of Men" -- one of the pitcher's favorite films.

"He did such a great job," Axford said. "If you see some of the behind-the-scene things, what he had to accomplish to actually get the actors to do what they did, and make the film the way he did without having much around besides a green screen, and trying to do all the visual effects and stuff after. He did a remarkable job."

During his days as a film student, it was that kind of editing process that most appealed to Axford.

"I liked the tangible feel of film," Axford said. "We actually worked with 16 millimeter. I took an intermediate production class. Actually being able to play with that, cut it, splice it, tape it back together, I loved doing that and putting together a story yourself."

Axford will get to continue his own story this year with the Indians.

The pitcher said a career in film can wait.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.

Cleveland Indians, John Axford