The moment lasted all of two seconds on the field. But it will live on in Fernando Rodney’s memory for the rest of his life.
In 2012, having been selected to the AL All-Star team in the midst of a sensational 48-save, 0.60-ERA season for the Rays, the veteran closer stood on the first-base line at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City and heard his name announced.
He acknowledged the applause quickly, stoically, and then looked away. He looked in the stands where his family — his wife, his son, his mother and the rest — sat and cheered.
“They called my name and it made me proud. It made me cry,” Rodney said. “I cried because I remembered when I was a young kid, where I came from, how much I worked to get there. When you see 50,000 people there and you’re in that game, you say, ‘Wow, I’m here with these guys? I’m one of them?’ It was a special moment.”
Rodney, 41, has had a couple of others since then, too. He was an All-Star again two years later, wearing a Mariners uniform in Target Field, and then again in 2016, as a Miami Marlin. He wouldn’t mind continuing that every-other-year pattern next month for his new team, too — and he’s been busy building a case for it.
“I hope he does. The things he’s doing this year are just amazing,” said Garvin Alston, the Twins’ pitching coach. “My goodness, he’s a major part of our bullpen. The swing-and-miss pitch, the fastball still getting up there in the 96 [miles per hour] range — he’s done enough.”
Rodney’s April stumbles are well known to Twins fans. The game-winning home run served up to Adam Jones on Opening Day, the walk-off blast by Gary Sanchez to cap a humiliating weekend in Yankee Stadium — they raised plenty of doubts about the second-oldest active pitcher in the game. Doubts in everyone but Rodney.
“I felt good. My pitches were the same. But there are good hitters,” Rodney said. “I just keep working and see what happens.”
What happened is, he began hitting corners with his fastball, and he began using his changeup more effectively.
“This has been his pattern for the last six years. It just takes him a little longer to get himself rocking and rolling,” Alston said. “But he knows his process, and when he gets there, this is what you get.”
“This” is near-perfection when it’s needed. Rodney has converted 15 consecutive save opportunities since Sanchez’s homer April 26, and he’s enjoying one of the most spotless months a closer can have. Rodney hasn’t allowed a single baserunner in a save situation in June, retiring all 16 batters he’s faced, seven of them by strikeout. A four-out save in Kansas City in May included a harmless solo home run by Jorge Soler, but that’s his lone run allowed in a save opportunity since New York. His ERA in those 15 outings since Sanchez’s home run: 0.61.
Rodney hasn’t allowed a double or triple all season; his 18 hits allowed amount to three home runs and 15 singles. And he hasn’t walked a batter in a save situation since May 12.
“I keep noticing that the walk number doesn’t move, and that’s usually a good sign,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said after Rodney entered Sunday’s 2-0 win over Texas and struck out the Rangers’ 2-3-4 hitters to end it.
“I have a lot of confidence, everybody does, when he comes in.”
Molitor managed two All-Star closers, Glen Perkins and Brandon Kintzler, in his first three seasons running the Twins, and he’s reluctant to make comparisons. Putting another Twins closer on the team for the July 17 game in Washington “is kind of a crapshoot, because usually there are way more people qualified” than spots available, he said. Indeed, Rodney’s 17 saves, 10 fewer than Seattle’s Edwin Diaz, rank only seventh in the American League.
Even Rodney acknowledges that his chances of joining Rich Gossage, Billy Wagner and Lee Smith as the only relievers to represent four teams in an All-Star Game are only so-so. But he would like to extend his personal streak: He faced seven batters in his three games, recorded six outs and a walk to Todd Frazier in Minneapolis.
“To have a chance to make All-Star memories, it takes doing your job. That’s what I want to do,” he said. “The American League has a lot of good closers. I’d like to continue to throw the ball the way I have, and we’ll see what happens.”