K-Rod: 'Never expected' 400 saves as kid

K-Rod: 'Never expected' 400 saves as kid

DETROIT -- The sun will come back up on a new game day, and Francisco Rodriguez will go back to work to be ready for the ninth inning, trying to send down three more hitters for another save on his resume. For save number 400, though, he was going to have a little fun.

As he talked with reporters following the Tigers' 3-1 win over the Phillies Tuesday night, he had special shoes on to mark the save, with a Venezuelan flag design on the front and the number 400 on the side and the back, along with his nickname, K-Rod. It didn't look like he was wearing them during the game, but he could wear them around the clubhouse.

More telling, though, was the moisture building up in his eyes as he talked about becoming the sixth pitcher in Major League history with 400 saves.

"It means a lot, for sure," Rodriguez said. "Just gotta take it in, enjoy it. Just the fact that only six people have done it in a long time, it's special for me and my family."

The list includes Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, John Franco and Billy Wagner. All of them remained dominant well into their mid 30s, some beyond that. None started out as great, as young, as Rodriguez.

He was a setup man on a World Series champion at age 20, recorded his first save with the Angels at age 21 and led the league with 45 saves at 23. He set a Major League record with 62 saves as a 26-year-old in 2008.

Rodriguez racked up 208 saves by the time he turned 27. But he recorded just 13 saves in 2012 and 2013 combined. It took his rebirth as a closer, and reinventing himself as a closer with a dominant changeup rather than a power fastball and wipeout slider, to get him back on track for history.

"When I came here to the States, and I came up to the big leagues, I was just a little kid with a lot of dreams," he said. "But [it] never, never even crossed my mind that 10, 12, 15 years later you're going to be able to accomplish 400 saves. You never expected that."

Rodriguez hit the milestone on a roll, converting his 14th consecutive save opportunity since his blown save on Opening Day. He had five consecutive hitless outings, and six in a row without a run allowed, before back-to-back hits Tuesday set up Tommy Joseph for a sacrifice fly.

All that did was turn a 3-0 game into a two-run affair. With the tying run at the plate, Rodriguez retired Ryan Howard and struck out Carlos Ruiz to finish the game and start his celebration.

"I don't know if I cried, screamed, laughed," he said. "A lot of things going through my mind in the moment. And I'm still trying to soak it in, enjoy. We'll see, we'll see what's going to happen."

Whatever happens, Rodriguez expects to be ready for 401 on Wednesday.

"I'm not planning to stop, either," he said. "I'm going to continue to keep working hard, keep collecting it, take a look back pretty much when I have the desire to pretty much hang my spikes up."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.