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John Axford

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John Berton Axford

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[edit] Biographical Information

John Axford took a circuitous route to the major leagues.

Axford began his college career at University of Notre Dame, but had Tommy John surgery in December 2003. He sat out 2004, and most of 2005 before transferring to Canisius College. He went undrafted after a so-so senior season. He dominated a collegiate summer league in Canada and was signed by scout Mike Gibbons for the New York Yankees.

Axford spent one season in the Yankees' chain at 4 different levels, including AAA but was released after the season. He hooked on with the Milwaukee Brewers the next spring, 2008, and was sent to the Brevard County Manatees, making his major league debut with the Brewers at the tail end of the 2009 season.

Axford became the closer of the Brewers as a rookie in 2010, replacing a struggling Trevor Hoffman­. He went 8-2, 2.48, saving 24 games while striking out 76 in 58 innings. In 2011, he had an even more outstanding season, saving a National League-leading 46 games as the Brewers were NL Central champions. He pitched 74 games with a record of 2-2, 1.95, and struck out 86 in 76 1/3 innings. He managed to keep his job even though the Brewers acquired Francisco Rodriguez, the all-time single-season save leader, at the trading deadline. He won a game and recorded a save in three appearances against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS, then had a pair of saves when the Brewers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS. Overall in the postseason, he gave up a single run in 7 innings, giving up 5 hits and 2 walks and striking out 9. After the season, he was named co-winner of the Tip O'Neill Award, given to the most outstanding Canadian baseball player; he shared the honor with Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds.

Axford converted 49 consecutive save opportunities in 2011 and early 2012, the fourth-longest streak in the history of the save statistic. The streak ended on May 11th, when he blew a one-run lead against the Chicago Cubs. The game would go on for a number of innings yet, with the Brewers winning, 8-7, in 13 innings, but John immediately left the ballpark after hearing that his wife Nicole had gone into labor, six weeks before the due date of the couple's second child. She had been watching the game from the stands (luckily, with her physician nearby). She was rushed to the hospital, where doctors were able to stop her contractions and prevent a premature birth. John left a hand-written note to reporters that became a sensation across the continent: "I put my wife into contractions with my performance tonight! The streak is over so now you can talk about it. The luck I've had in the past didn't show up tonight! All I can do is start another streak and keep my head up! Cliché... cliché... cliché... another cliché. Gotta go! Love, Ax." However, he began to struggle badly starting in June, when he was charged with 3 blown saves and 2 losses, and it continued into July. On July 16th, he gave up 3 runs in two-thirds of an inning in blowing a save and suffering a loss to the Cardinals, bringing his record on the year to 2-6, 5.35 with 16 saves in 39 games. After the game, manager Ron Roenicke announced that set-up man Rodriguez would now be given 9th-inning duties while Axford would attempt to regain his confidence in lower-pressure situations. In his first game in his new role on July 18th, he entered a game against the Cardinals in the 5th, picked up four outs and wound up the winning pitcher when Rodriguez saved the Brewers' 4-3 win with a sweat-inducing 9th inning performance. He ended the year with 35 saves, but his peripheral stats were well down from his previous season: his record was 5-8, his ERA 4.67, although he did strike out 93 batters in 69 1/3 innings.

Axford played with Team Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic (allowing one run in 1 2/3 IP) and was still the Brewers' titular closer when the 2013 season started, but he quickly lost the job with a series of poor performances in the early going: his ERA stood at 24.30 after 4 appearances. Replacing him was his teammate on the Canadian national squad, Jim Henderson, while he assumed set-up duties. The change worked wonders, as the Brewers went on a nine-game winning streak in mid-April, with both Canuck relievers pitching very well in their new roles. He ended up pitching 62 times for the Brewers, with a record of 6-7, 4.45. On August 30th, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Michael Blazek. He pitched well down the stretch, going 1-0, 1.74 in 13 games for the Cards. In the postseason he pitched twice in all three rounds of the playoffs, giving up a single run in 5 1/3 innings while striking out 9. That included two scoreless appearances in the 2013 World Series against the Boston Red Sox. On December 16th, he signed a free agent contract with the Cleveland Indians, who were projecting him to be the replacement for departed closer Chris Perez.

Axford is a big film buff. In 2014, he gained national recognition beyond baseball circles for his ability to predict the winners of the annual Academy Awards. Before the ceremony on March 2nd, he posted his predictions of winners and was correct in all 18 categories for which he made a guess, including technical ones such as sound editing, photography or costumes, in addition to the glamour acting and directing categories and others such as animated feature, adapted screenplay or best foreign film. He credits his father for introducing him to more diversified movie fare than the average teenager sees when the two were together on long road trips during the time Axford was playing youth baseball. His degree from Notre Dame was in film and television. He had been only a couple of picks short of perfection picking winners in previous year, but his perfect score in 2014 turned him from movie fan to movie expert, especially as his picks were not simply guess, but justified by knowledge of what he what he was talking about.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • NL Rolaids Relief Award Winner (2011)
  • NL Saves Leader (2011)
  • 30 Saves Seasons: 2 (2011 & 2012)
  • 40 Saves Seasons: 1 (2011)

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