10/18/11 7:25 PM ET
Finally in World Series, Rhodes guaranteed ring
Cards lefty reaches first Fall Classic, began year with Rangers
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
And yet, there was Rhodes on Tuesday afternoon, burying his arms in a bright red Cardinals jacket in a repurposed cafeteria at Busch Stadium. Most years, come mid-October, Rhodes is trekking through the woods, ignoring baseball and his incomplete career.
This year, one week shy of his 42nd birthday, Rhodes is rather incredibly doing the opposite.
"I don't really feel like going home right now," he said from his cafeteria seat, tilting his head to the side, so that the World Series logo on his cap became visible.
Rhodes has flirted with such embroidery before. There was the time in Baltimore when he reached the American League Championship Series two consecutive years, only to lose both times on the doorstep of the World Series. There was the time he and the Mariners won a record 116 games and made back-to-back LCS appearances, only to fizzle each time.
He continued to pitch because he continued to yearn for a championship. So Rhodes can hardly believe what luck has befallen him here in St. Louis: In his 20th season, after 19 disappointments, he is the only man in baseball guaranteed a World Series ring.
The roots of that story trace back to July and August, when the Rangers unceremoniously released Rhodes to make room for trade acquisition Mike Adams, squashing the left-hander's best chance to make the Series in nearly a decade. Just like that, the man with more career appearances than any active player outside of Mariano Rivera was without a job.
Three days after his release, looking to add a second left-hander to their bullpen, the Cardinals called. Rhodes answered. Rhodes excelled. And that has brought him to the cusp of this unique situation. If the Cards win the World Series, Rhodes will finally earn his first elusive ring -- "sweet revenge for him," as Texas reliever Darren Oliver put it. If the Rangers win, Rhodes will still earn a ring for his contributions in Texas.
Within those parameters, he is about to join Bengie Molina and Lonnie Smith as the only players in World Series history to oppose a team they played for earlier in the season. Last October, Molina made the Series with the Rangers following a midseason trade from San Francisco; when he lost, his former Giants teammates sent him a ring.
That is not to say that Rhodes has no motivation to win his first ring the natural way, the way he figured he would do it a long time ago. It's just that he knows he is finally going to win one regardless, right when he was starting to believe it might never happen.
"Some people have played and have never even gotten there," Cardinals closer Jason Motte said. "That's the goal. But sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't."
Until this week, Rhodes might have disagreed with that statement. It has never worked out for him, never ever, despite a superlative career dating back to the Bush administration. The first Bush administration.
Since converting to a full-time reliever in 1997, Rhodes has posted a 3.37 ERA over 803 games, holding left-handed batters to a .214 average. And he has spent most of that playing for good teams; after falling just short of the Series with the Mariners in 2000 and '01, Rhodes' clubs did not make the playoffs for four consecutive seasons despite amassing at least 91 victories each year.
He was on track for his second playoff appearance in three years this season until the Rangers cut him in August.
"You don't have the longevity he's had and the success if you're not something special, and Arthur Rhodes is special," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "Texas knows what they were doing or whatever, but we are just glad he's with us."
And that's the thing. At 41 years old, Rhodes is no bit player on this Cardinals team that has scooped him out of baseball purgatory. Appearing in five of the Cards' first 11 postseason games, he is a critical part of La Russa's bullpen machine, often facing the best left-handed hitters the opposition has to offer.
His role will be no different this week, against a Rangers lineup featuring left-handed sluggers Josh Hamilton and David Murphy. Plus, he may offer something more. Knowing Texas as intimately as he does, Rhodes can play the role of scout as the Cardinals face a club almost entirely foreign to them.
"I'm sure they love him over there," Murphy said, laughing.
The Rangers, Murphy continued, are rather fond of him, too. They describe a workout fanatic who spends extra hours in the weight room before and after games, working on his legs, his abs, his shoulders. It is the only way a 41-year-old pitcher can compete -- and thrive -- in a young man's game.
"You have to," Cards reliever Octavio Dotel said. "I'm 37. I'm old too. Trust me, the older you get, the more you have to work."
Perhaps when Rhodes was younger, his motivations were more complex. Not now. Rhodes signed with the Rangers last winter because he wanted to win a World Series. He signed with the Cardinals in August because he wanted to win a World Series.
Over two decades in the big leagues, his ambitions have narrowed to a fine, sharp point. Sitting in the cafeteria on Tuesday, Rhodes did not care about deer season. He did not care about the LCS. He did not care about his last 19 empty seasons.
He cared only about the first World Series appearance of his career.
"It's going to hit me when I step on the field," Rhodes said. "And once I do that, it's going to be fun. And I'm going to want to keep doing it."