This is the beginning of a new series to help offset that offseason malaise that I’m feeling and that I’m certain many of you are feeling as well. In no particular order, I will present some at-bats that stuck in my mind or are notable for some other reason. Unfortunately, MLBAM is ridiculously stringent with their video rules, so we’ll have to deal with what they have available.
The first one is the at-bat in which I would say that John Axford truly arrived as Brewers closer. Set the scene: after Todd Coffey failed to record an out in the 8th inning, Axford entered and retired Jim Thome via the strikeout and Jason Kubel on a lineout double play to end the inning. Axford remained in for the ninth and induced a groundout from Denard Span and a strikeout from Orlando Hudson (both lefties!) for the first two outs. After a Joe Mauer single, the tying run came to the plate in the form of Justin Morneau.
Axford placed his first two pitches expertly: the first out of the zone enough to be unhittable but close enough to get called a strike against a lefty (the zone always gets expanded outside against lefties for some reason), and the second on a beautiful slider that ate Morneau up.
Still, with a hitter of Morneau’s caliber at the plate – particularly, the Bonds-esque Morneau that put up a .345/.437/.618 line before getting hurt last season – an at-bat is never over. Axford still needed to locate on 0-2, and locate he did, as you can see in the MLB.com video of the final pitch – another slider down and off the plate inside.
This was an absolutely beautiful sequence from an inexperienced closer against one of the best hitters in the majors. Axford, of course, went on to lead National League rookies in saves and, more importantly, put up fantastic numbers all around including a 2.13 FIP and 2.0 wins above replacement.