Nothing about John Axford’s major-league career has ever followed protocol, so why should his trade from the Milwaukee Brewers have been any different?
The right-handed reliever, who rose from reclamation project to the top closer in the National League in 2011, only to fall victim to maddening bouts of inconsistency, was sent to the rival St. Louis Cardinals on Friday morning for a player to be named later.
Axford was informed the deal was in the works Thursday night, following the Brewers’ victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. He was given the option of remaining there because the Cardinals were coming in for a weekend series with the Pirates.
Instead, Axford traveled back to Milwaukee before catching another flight back to Pittsburgh to join his new team.
“It was definitely a shock that it happened when it did. I wasn’t expecting it by any means,” Axford said in a phone interview en route to PNC Park on Friday afternoon.
“I was told last night right before we were about to get on the (bus), so that kind of threw a little wrench into everything to try to figure out what I needed to do as far as commitments to my family as well as commitments to my new team.”
Axford, 30, leaves with a 6-7 record and 4.45 earned-run average in 62 appearances this season.
He ranks second on the team’s all-time saves list with 106, trailing Dan Plesac (133), and compiled a 21-19 record with a 3.35 ERA in 268 relief appearances with the Brewers from 2009-‘13.
His 46 saves in 2011 set a franchise record, and his 49 in a row spanning 2011 and the start of 2012 were fourth-most in major-league history.
Axford opened this season as the closer but lost the job to Jim Henderson after surrendering four home runs in his first three appearances.
He led the major leagues in blown saves with nine in 2012, losing his job as closer for a period to Francisco Rodriguez around midseason, but converted 17 of his last 18 saves and 35 of 44 in all.
“It was a tough one because he’s done so much for our organization, and his path to get here,” general manager Doug Melvin said of the trade.
“We gave him the opportunity and he capitalized. We wouldn’t have been in the playoffs — wouldn’t have even sniffed the playoffs in 2011 without John Axford. I hope people remember that instead of the few games that he blew or whatever.
“The pressure put on that position is very difficult — with all the relievers, not just John Axford. Everybody wants perfection at that position and every position doesn’t have the quest for perfection like that one does. It’s a lot of pressure. But he withstood it a lot of times.
“He’s a good person and he and his wife, Nicole, were good in the community.”
Manager Ron Roenicke conceded it was tough to see the Brewers trade Axford to a division rival like the Cardinals, who are in a neck-and-neck battle with the Pirates for first place in the Central Division.
“That’s one of the reasons why (Melvin) asked me and why he had a hard time with it,” he said. “Anytime you trade in your division and to a team that’s above you, you always cringe some. But where we are this year, if you’re going to do it, this is the time to do it.”