Frankie may go back to glasses
Closer tosses bullpen session, contemplates new shades
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Cleared to return to baseball activity and the Mets' clubhouse, too, Frankie Rodriguez will return to work -- pitching ninth innings -- shortly, probably this weekend. He also may return to those wrap-around, prescription glasses that he wore for five years during his tenure with the Angels that made him appear other worldly at times.
K-Rod wore shades he called goggles on Tuesday when he threw his first PPE -- post-pink eye -- bullpen session on what he called "My Day 1, basically." But the eyewear wouldn't be appropriate or safe for in-game duty unless he were trying to cultivate an image of a visionary.
All was well with his eyes and his arm on Day 1, and his command was such that he immodestly challenged his teammate who would make his own debut, of a different sort, hours later. Rodriquez told Johan Santana, "If I have that kind of stuff and location when the season starts, get out of the way. That Cy Young is mine."
That remains to be seen, as does Rodriguez's choice of vision enhancement. Contact lenses are out for the time being because of his protracted case of conjunctivitis that delayed his training camp work and made him a homebody for more than a week. And they may be for good. He wore contact lenses in 2008 because he found the prescription glasses irritated his ears and the bridge of his nose and because the manufacturer had was slow to deliver new goods in Spring Training.
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Now Rodriguez is undecided. He saved 72 games wearing lenses in 2008. But he also has a haunting, long-standing memory of a problem related to wearing lenses, one that cost the Angels dearly in the 2002 World Series. If the manufacturer is prompt this spring, K-Rod may go back to the Chris Sabo-look. Rodriguez may not look better, but he may see better.
The World Series experience happened late in Game 4 in San Francisco. K-Rod had replaced fellow reliever Ben Weber, a goggle-wearer himself, to start the seventh inning. Rodriguez retired his three batters -- Jeff Kent, Barry Bonds and Benito Santiago -- without incident, a nice, tidy inning against the meat of the order. The Angels did nothing in the top of the eighth, so the score still was tied at 3 when J.T. Snow led off the bottom of the inning with a single.
With the go-ahead run on base, K-Rod's contacts became an issue. With Reggie Sanders batting, Bengie Molina singled for a curve. But Rodriguez misread the sign; he saw fastball. He was certain his catcher had called for heat. Molina was waiting for the pitch to break. It didn't, glancing off his mitt instead. Snow advanced to second on what was scored a passed ball.
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Rodriguez was spared momentarily when Scott Spiezio, playing first base, made a tumbling catch of Sanders' fouled bunt attempt. But David Bell followed with a single to center that scored what proved to be the decisive run in a victory that tied the series.
"We never told anybody. We never said anything [publicly]," K-Rod said Tuesday morning as he recounted the most embarrassing day of his rookie season. "I don't know if anyone knows what really happened. Bengie just said the ball went off his glove. He said he should have caught it. They didn't want me to say anything about it and have to face a lot of questions about what happened. But I know what happened. It was my fault. I crossed him up.
"We won the World Series [in seven games], but what would have happened if we didn't? I would have been the reason, you know, the goat. We got behind. We lost the fifth game. But we came back. I was very happy."
The following spring, Weber persuaded him to try an alternate to contacts. Weber wore goggles and that always-popular Chris Sabo look. But K-Rod went for glasses -- less care than contacts and his vision was sharper.
"I don't know what I'll do. I may go back to the goggles," Rodriguez said. "You know it's better if you see the signs."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.