John Axford is back in the saddle as one of the dominant NL closers. And he's taking the rest of the Brewers along for the ride. (Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE)

John Axford in 2012: A Microcosm


There’s been a lot of talk about Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford this season – some of it good, most of it not-so-good.

But there’s little question that right now, over the last month or so of play, that Axford’s season has turned around remarkably. With 33 saves on the season he finds himself with the 11th most in the Major Leagues – a far cry from the detractors earlier in the season. It was as if, quite literally, he flipped a switch on his season and became – once again – the dominant closer we expected out of him, and with it gave hope to Brewers fans in a season that was all but lost.

A pitcher’s mind is probably the last place most normal people would like to go, but trying to figure out what happened to John Axford’s season is almost too enticing a topic to stay away from. Because, in reality, the year that John Axford has had – his whole life, really – draws a lot of parallel to the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers season.

August 10th was the last time John Axford blew a save for the Milwaukee Brewers. At that point, the Crew was 51-60, and nearly all hope of the season was lost. After that point, when he earned a loss and gave up two runs in the process of blowing that eighth save, he has since given up only seven runs. Only one of them has been in the process of a save.

He has also, along with Milwaukee, taken every opportunity to secure a Brewers victory – 15 consecutive times. A far cry of his previous best of 49 straight conversions, but new beginnings are like that. They seem small at first, and slowly that foundation becomes greater and greater with every new day and new opportunity. In a lifetime of big opportunities, Johns Axford’s latest not only cements his position as vital to this organization, but his necessity to the incredible end-of-the-season campaign his team has had.

It was, as you recall, Axford who asked to be placed back into the closer’s role with the Milwaukee Brewers. He was not his usual boisterous public persona amid the bullpen collapse. He was a new, more serious Axford. He kept relatively quiet on Twitter and on Facebook, save for a few apologies and thank-you’s from consoling fans. He had gotten his haircut, trimmed down that famous and malicious mustache and beard and went back to work. It was a maturity of sorts, and one that the team and especially a struggling bullpen needed so badly.

I’m not about to posit that his off-field persona had in any way effected his on-field performance, but there is a small correlation with the suddenly more docile Axford and the ever-better bullpen. He confirmed, in some small way, what fans needed to see – not only was John Axford a good pitcher, but he could be a good leader as well. He took more than his share of the blame and the responsibility. He owned it, to use a tired phrase, and used it to fuel a collection of great performances.

It was, rather obviously stated, as if when Axford turned around the Brewers followed suit. The offense picked up, the starting pitching continued a march of excellence, and Milwaukee went on a tear that saw them inching ever closer to their chance to play-in to the post-season. The same qualities Ax has exhibited in his climb back into the closer’s seat are the same the team has shown in being able to be so successful this last month – leadership, humility, responsibility, and heart. This is what a team needs to succeed. This is what Axford has brought back to try and help.

Sometimes, there is no explaining what happens inside a pitcher’s mind. But when it comes to John Axford, it’s obvious that with everything happening inside his, quitting simply isn’t one of them.

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