Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Team Canada

John Axford Rejoins Brewers, Gets Injured…Not the Way the Story Was Supposed to Go

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A few days ago, pitcher John Axford rejoined the Brewers, came out to pitch in the 9th inning to wild applause…then injured his elbow after first hitting a batter, then walking two (getting one out in the process). I could see the injury when he threw to the last batter (the second walk), as the elbow looked wrong in a way I can’t quite explain.

This was not the way the story was supposed to go.

Axford is now thirty-eight. He is the Brewers single-season saves leader with 46. And he’d recently pitched for Team Canada during Olympic qualifications, then was sent by the Toronto Blue Jays to their Triple-A ballclub as Axford had looked impressive and his velocity (upper nineties on the radar gun) was back. Then Toronto traded Axford, a then-minor league player, to the Brewers for cash considerations. This was a classy move by a classy organization.

To make matters even more interesting, Axford had worked for the Blue Jays as a TV analyst at the start of this season before making his comeback effort. (To say that all of this is quite uncommon, almost of a storybook quality, is understating Axford’s story.)

So, we return to Milwaukee and Axford’s appearance a few days ago. As I said, he came out to wild applause; there may have even been a standing ovation. (We Brewers fans do not forget our players.) Axford, who’d not pitched for the Brewers since 2013, seemed touched by this (I was watching TV, and saw his expressions). He warmed up on the mound, as every pitcher does, and he looked quite good.

I was happy to see Axford. I wrote about him years ago (that’s why I have a “John Axford” category here at my blog), and I know he’s a quality human being and a class act. I also knew that he’s not the type of guy to accept a challenge unless he believes he can beat that challenge.

Anyway, during the first at-bat by the opposing team (Pittsburgh), he looked impressive. His fastball was hitting 94 or 95 mph consistently and hit 96 at least once. (Fastball velocity matters because major league hitters can tee off on pitches that are slower than that, in general. There are exceptions to this, pitchers who can make change-ups work for them, such as Brewers pitcher Devin Williams. But Axford is not one of those exceptions.) And he’d gotten a couple of strikes on the batter — I forget the guy’s name now, but he always stands right on top of the plate — before hitting him.

So, that guy goes to first base.

Axford still looked OK. He wasn’t rattled. (As an experienced closing pitcher, he’s certainly done things like that before. Not often, but often enough that it wouldn’t throw him.) He kept going.

But something happened to his elbow during the next few at-bats. While he did get one guy out (soft outfield fly, if I remember right), he was not able to get any more outs. And with the last few pitches he threw, the ball came nowhere close to the plate. In fact, they didn’t even come close to the batter’s box, that’s just how far outside they were.

That’s not like Axford, or any experienced player. I knew this. And I also knew that if you ever see something like that in a professional ballgame, the pitcher’s hurt.

Axford was taken out of the game. An MRI was done the next morning, and all Brewers fans know to this point is that Axford is out for the rest of the season as he has unspecified elbow damage.

I feel for Axford. I truly do.

I am not a professional pitcher — not hardly! — but when I was in my teens I had a good fastball for a fourteen-year-old and tried out for the local team. (Unofficially, mind.) Another of the girls I knew, who ran cross-country, also tried out. And we showed enough that it’s possible both of us would’ve gotten an official tryout, even during a time where young women weren’t exactly encouraged to be athletes — and definitely not encouraged to be pitchers. (My friend was a first baseman, mind, and hit a ton. But I digress.)

Anyway, sometime over the next year, I messed up my right arm. I went in to see the orthopedist, and he said as I was not ever going to be pitching again, I didn’t need to have my arm fixed. But that I’d apparently torn something — a ligament, a rotator cuff, he wasn’t sure (and no, he didn’t do an X-ray, either; MRIs were quite expensive, then). Because I was a musician, not an athlete, he did not recommend getting my arm fixed.

Ever since, instead of throwing in the high 70s/low 80s (which was quite good for a fourteen-year-old, I point out again), I can maybe throw a fastball in the mid 30s. My right arm hurts when the weather changes, too.

I know that professional pitchers do get their arms fixed, and they should. But I’m here to tell you that I know these injuries are extremely frustrating. Even to someone like me, who wasn’t really an athlete (though I wanted to be, desperately), an arm injury of the type Axford apparently suffered is difficult to deal with. (I had pain while playing my instruments for at least six months, too. But I digress, again.)

Everyone among the Brewers faithful, and probably most others as well, wanted Axford’s appearance to go differently. They wanted Axford to get the save. They wanted Axford to remain uninjured. And they wanted Axford to enjoy a night that he’d worked hard to get back to: a night in the big leagues, again.

That did not happen.

The story did not go where it should’ve. And that just goes to show you that stories, even when they don’t go the way you want, are important.

I wish Axford well, hope he fully recovers, and pitches again in the big leagues before he retires. But if he isn’t able to make it back to “the Show” again, I hope he’ll remember that the journey to get there was important. All the work he’d done to stay in shape, to try out for Team Canada, to go to the minors and work hard, was important as well.

Hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and care are all important. Axford has all of that in droves. And now, he — along with the rest of the Brewers faithful — needs to remember that he’s done everything he can.

The rest, unfortunately, is out of his hands.

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 6, 2021 at 4:30 pm

World Baseball Classic Game Turns Ugly as Teams Canada, Mexico Brawl

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Baseball fans will remember March 9, 2013.

Why?

Because today, of all days, the World Baseball Classic actually had a game that contained a nasty brawl.  As the WBC is meant as an international showcase, and as baseball rarely has brawls, the juxtaposition of the two things did not go over well.

Here’s the situation.  It’s the top of the 9th.  The setting is Phoenix, Arizona.  Team Canada leads Team Mexico by a score of 9-3.  Canada’s Chris Robinson bunts for a base hit, which isn’t something usually done when your team is up by six runs.

This bunt upset Team Mexico.  (Though perhaps the word “upset” is a bit of an understatement.)

And a brawl broke out.

As the Miami Herald’s account of the game pointed out:

Under normal circumstances, Robinson’s bunt would be considered a serious breach of etiquette and not attempted out of professional courtesy. But the WBC rules are different.

Run differential is the first tiebreaker when two teams have the same record, and with only two of the four countries in each pool advancing to the next round, chances are good it will come down to that.

As a result, piling it on is not only permitted in the WBC, it’s advised.

At any rate, Team Mexico was furious.  Third baseman Luis Cruz clearly indicated to relief pitcher Arnold Leon that the next batter for Team Canada should get hit.  It took Leon three tries to hit Rene Tosoni, though Leon was warned after his second close pitch that he’d be ejected if he continued to throw at Tosoni.

After that, things just went wild on the field.  (To see the melee in progress, check out this link, courtesy of USA Today, for further details.)

From the Miami Herald’s account of the brawl:

Benches cleared immediately, and the situation deteriorated quickly.

Unlike most baseball skirmishes, tempers in Saturday’s disagreement resulted in fisticuffs, as a huge throng of players for both teams congregated at home plate and began throwing punches, hauling each other to the ground, and putting their opponents in headlocks.

“It’s part of the game that you don’t see all the time,” Canada first baseman Justin Morneau said. “Usually it’s just words being said. There’s not always punches being thrown. But there’s a point you’ve got to stand up for yourself.”

The upshot of the melee was that seven players were ejected: Tosoni, Pete Orr, and Jay Johnson of Team Canada, and Leon, Alfredo Aceves, Oliver Perez and Eduardo Arredando for Team Mexico.  Surprisingly, the umpires did not feel that Cruz deserved to be ejected even though he’s the one who instituted the whole thing.

Then, the fans got into the act.  From the USA Today’s account:

It turned ugly from the stands, too, when someone threw a water bottle that hit pitching coach Denis Boucher. Canadian shortstop Cale Iorg fired the bottle back into the stands.

Minutes later, someone threw a baseball at Walker, causing another stop in play. Whitt went to home-plate umpire Brian Gorman and told him that he would pull his team off the field if another incident occurred. Gorman went to Team Mexico and said the game was in danger of being forfeited.

The public address announcer informed the pro-Mexico crowd that any further disruption would cause a forfeit.

So, did you catch all that?

In case you didn’t, here’s what occurred: First, the pitcher for Team Mexico was told to throw at the second batter for Team Canada after the first batter had bunted for a base hit.  It took Team Mexico’s pitcher three tries, but he eventually hit Team Canada’s second batter.

Team Canada’s batter went after the pitcher.  (Too bad he didn’t go after the third baseman who started it all, but that’s another story.)  So those two, normally, would be the only ones fighting.

However, in this case, two outfielders from Team Canada came off the bench and gleefully joined in the melee, while two relief pitchers plus one of Team Mexico’s outfielders also joined in the melee and hit numerous people, including Canada’s first base coach Larry “the Hat” Walker.

And somehow, the guy who started it all — Luis Cruz — not only didn’t get ejected, he didn’t even get fined.  (Though this may change once the replays are viewed.)

The joke usually goes in hockey that a brawl was scheduled, but a hockey game broke out.  It’s shocking to realize that baseball, too, can have such an occurrence happen — all because of this quirk in the WBC rules that says you need to run up the score, or you have no chance to advance in the case of a tie.

And because of one man — Luis Cruz — who was offended that Canada’s Chris Robinson did what he was asked to do by his manager, Ernie Whitt, and bunted for a base hit in the top of the ninth.

One would hope that down the line, Cruz will realize that not only was this unnecessary, it was an extremely stupid decision.

But for now, all Team Canada can do is wait to see if anyone ends up getting suspended.  As Team Mexico is out of the tournament, further enforcement of WBC rules probably will not apply.

And if that seems unfair to anyone else, do let me know.  Because I seriously hope I’m not the only one disquieted by Cruz’s actions.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 10, 2013 at 12:57 am