The first stage is undeniably euphoric.There's a roar at Chase Field when the bullpen door swings open and Fernando Rodney trots to the mound. The game is on the line and Lil John's "Live the Night" booms throughout the ballpark.• NLDS Game 1: Tonight, 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. MST on
The first stage is undeniably euphoric.
There's a roar at Chase Field when the bullpen door swings open and Fernando Rodney trots to the mound. The game is on the line and Lil John's "Live the Night" booms throughout the ballpark.
• NLDS Game 1: Tonight, 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. MST on TBS
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D-backs fans rise to their feet. Rodney's teammates bob their heads to the beat and pat the inside of their gloves. It's go time.
The next stage of watching Rodney throw: nervous anticipation. The 40-year-old pitcher exudes calmness when he steps on the mound, a stark contrast to the sense of anxiety rippling throughout the stands. There's a reason some fans consume Rodney's outings with clenched jaws and fists.
But for all of the theater, the Rodney experience usually ends the same way. First, with sighs of relief, then with the imaginary arrow he shoots into center field.
What the rest of the baseball world views as a daily drama, Rodney views as just another day at the ballpark. It's that attitude, along with a 95-mph fastball and a devastating changeup, that have carried him through 15 seasons in the big leagues and help propel the D-backs to the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile against the Dodgers, which begins tonight in Los Angeles.
"This has been a great year for me personally and for us as a team, and I'm blessed to be able to say that," Rodney said in Spanish. "I believe in myself. I believe in this team. We are ready for the Dodgers."
Rodney went 5-4 in the regular season, with 39 saves and 65 strikeouts against 26 walks, holding opponents to a .200 batting average in 61 appearances. He had 17 saves in 18 opportunities in the second half and converted 33 of his final 37 save chances.
He tied team records with a career-high 11 consecutive hitless outings from May 31-July 1 and nine consecutive hitless save opportunities. His 12 saves in August were also a D-backs monthly record.
And in September, Rodney became the 28th player in history to record 300 saves.
Yet there are still plenty of D-backs fans who get nervous when Rodney takes the ball in the ninth inning. The veteran gets into trouble when he loses his fastball command and is unable to throw his changeup. He's prone to walking more batters than the average pitcher, and he finished with a 4.23 ERA.
"There have been five or six times this year where he hasn't been perfect, but to me, it's a pretty ratio," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "I think he saved 39 games. It was a tremendous year for him. But if I had to highlight one thing that wasn't perfect on the days he didn't have success, it would be the fastball command. Teams just waited him out."
Experiencing Rodney from inside the clubhouse is different than watching him outside it. He's among the most popular players in the clubhouse, and his teammates have never lost confidence in him.
"It's awesome playing behind him," D-backs right fielder J.D. Martinez said. "He's an exciting player, and he has those two great pitches that can get anyone out. He's just one of those guys you feel comfortable when he's out there because he's been there. It's like, 'OK, Fernando is out there. We got this game.'"
"He has taught me more than I think anyone in the big leagues has as far as just understanding that you have to be the same guy every single day," D-backs reliever Archie Bradley said. "With the ups and downs of the game, he taught me, you have to be consistent. Who you are is who you are regardless of your performance."
How Rodney landed in this position is quite the story.
The D-backs entered last offseason with lots of questions about their bullpen and answered a big one when they signed Rodney to be their closer for $2.75 million. The veteran, who was coming off of an up-and-down season in Seattle, ended up making an additional $1.5 million in incentive pay but was still one of the biggest bargains in baseball.
On Wednesday, Rodney entered in the ninth inning of the NL Wild Card Game against the Rockies with the D-backs leading, 11-7. He gave up a single to Rockies first baseman Ian Desmond on his third pitch, and the fans squirmed.
Rodney remained cool and struck out the next two hitters, center fielder Charlie Blackmon and second baseman DJ LeMahieu. Desmond scored on a single by right fielder Carlos Gonzalez to cut the lead to four runs, but third baseman Nolan Arenado grounded into a forceout to end the game. Rodney shot his invisible arrow into the center-field scoreboard to begin the celebration.
"We've been playing great baseball since the beginning of the season. We never put our heads down and we never lost hope," Rodney said. "We had an elimination game, a tremendous game, and we were able to come out on top."
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.