In August 2014 the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired a long time foe to help reinforce their bullpen in a move that his largely forgotten
For many years John Axford was a thorn in the side of the Pittsburgh Pirates. From 2009-2012 he pitched with the Milwaukee Brewers, and was one of the better closers in the National League. Then in August 2013, he remained in the NL Central when he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.
In 2014, he was finally out of the NL Central. This came after he signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract with the Cleveland Indians. Then in August of 2014, he would return to the NL Central. This time, with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
On August 14, 2014, the Pirates claimed Axford off waivers and acquired him from the Indians. At the time, Axford looked like a good option to help reinforce the Pirate bullpen for the stretch run of their postseason push.
Axford would go on to log 11 innings of work in 12 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He allowed nine hits, zero home runs, walked six, and struck out 12 in these 11 innings of work. While he had a strong 2.86 FIP, due to allowing 5 earned runs his EAR was 4.09.
Axford’s ERA was inflated due to his final outing of the season. In that outing, he allowed 3 earned runs against the Cincinnati Reds while recording just one out. If you take that outing away, he allowed eight hits, issued four walks, struck out 12 batters, and posted a 1.69 ERA as a Pirate. That is more than solid for someone who was pitching largely in middle relief the way Axford was.
The acquisition of Axford came after the Pirates failed to make a move at the July trading deadline. This, of course, led to former general manager Neal Huntington’s famous “no move was the right move” post-deadline quote. As you can imagine, most Pittsburgh Pirates fans did not agree with Huntington.
After the Pirates were defeated by the San Francisco Giants in the NL Wild Card Game, Axford was designated for assignment by the Bucs on October 25. In January 2015, he signed a minor league contract with the Colorado Rockies, and went on to post a 4.20 ERA and a 3.57 FIP for the Rockies that season while also recording 25 saves.
Axford would pitch for the Oakland A’s in 2016 and 2017. He then split the 2018 season between the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers, before returning to the Blue Jays on a minor league contract for 2019. However, due to injury, he did not pitch at all in 2019.
While Axford will likely always be remembered as a Milwaukee Brewer, for the final month and a half of the 2014 season he was with the Pirates. He helped pitch the Pirates back to the postseason for a second consecutive season, and got to be a member of that epic celebration in the visitors clubhouse in Atlanta the night they clinched.