Athletes will tell you that returning to face a former team is meaningless. It’s just another competition in a lifetime based on competition.
So it was rather odd to hear Francisco Rodriguez tell the throng of journalists surrounding him in the visitors’ dugout Friday afternoon at Citi Field that he was anticipating his first trip back to Flushing since the July 12 trade from the Mets to the Brewers.
“I was looking forward to saying ‘hi’ to my old teammates. They stood behind me in my struggles. I left some good friends out there,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez’s return to Citi Field was the headline of a surreal weekend series between the surging Brewers and sinking Mets. National League MVP-candidate Ryan Braun was ejected for arguing balls-and-strikes, and later both dugouts and bullpens emptied following a confrontation between Prince Fielder and Tim Byrdak in the Brewers’ 6-1, rain-delayed win Friday night. On Saturday, black smoke and flames from a chop shop fire behind centerfield were visible. The fire was a subplot to Milwaukee’s 11-9 win that saw the Brewers take a 7-1 lead on two-run homers from Braun and Yuniesky Betancourt, and a mammoth three-run shot from Fielder, only to fall behind 9-7 going into the ninth before scoring four runs off Mets closer Jason Isringhausen.
Rodriguez was credited with the win and a blown save Saturday. He entered the game with a 7-6 lead in the eighth and surrendered three earned runs. Rodriguez gave up three hits, most notably a Josh Thole double off the glove of Jerry Hairston Jr. and a two-run homer to Angel Pagan and a walk. He did pitch a perfect eighth in Sunday’s 6-2 win. The Brewers have won 27-of-36 since acquiring Rodriguez after this weekend’s sweep of the Mets.
“Great. Different role,” Rodriguez said of his adjustment to Milwaukee and his new job description. “Still trying to make that transition as far as preparation [and] mentality.”
Brewers’ manager Ron Roenicke reiterated on Friday what he said after the trade was made. Even though his role is to set up for John Axford, Rodriguez will have opportunities to close. He has not yet closed for the NL Central Division leaders because Axford has been perfect in his last 34 save opportunities. Axford is 2-2 with 37 saves and two blown saves this season.
“It hasn’t been any challenge for me,” Roenicke said. “We had a conversation at the beginning. I asked him what he was thinking and I told him what I was thinking. We tried to work out some things that haven’t worked out yet. But that hasn’t been an issue at all. I thought he’d have more chances and the way we were going — we had played so many close games — that there’d be opportunities.”
The closer-turned-set up man acknowledged he had spoken with the Mets about ridding his contract of the $17.5 million vesting option for 2012. He had readied himself for a trade, but admitted surprise at the timing of the deal. The trade was announced after the conclusion of the All-Star Game.
“I can say I was expecting it but I did not expect it that early,” Rodriguez said. “I was thinking at the end of [July].When it happened so quick, it caught me off-guard. But at the same time I was anxious to see what would happen.”
Rodriguez, a free agent after this season, stated he would have to see what the future holds, but wouldn’t dismiss a return to the Mets. He did offer some unsolicited to Alderson and Terry Collins regarding Bobby Parnell and the Mets’ internal quest to find and develop a closer.
“That kid’s got great stuff. He needs to show up and prove himself day in and day out,” Rodriguez said of Parnell. “He’s not getting the job done; he’s leaving the ball up, not making quality pitches when he needs to. But the only way to find out [if he can] get it done is [to] do the job in the ninth inning. Let him get experience to find out if he’s capable or not. The only way to find out is [to put him out there] with the bases loaded, no outs, and has to get out of a jam.”
Follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.