John Rocker will be headed back to the Atlanta Braves in Pittsburgh Wednesday. He was sent down to Richmond Virgina to work on his command, but mostly because his teammates were fed up with his erratic behavior.
But an injury to another Atlanta reliever, Rudy Seanez, appears to have created an opening for Rocker. "I don't know if it was because Rudy got hurt," Richmond pitching coach Mike Alvarez said after announcing the recall. "They didn't give us details."
But his welcome by his teammates, who were happy to see him go, remains to be seen.
News of the recall also followed Rocker's third, and least impressive, outing for the Triple-A Braves. He allowed two hits and a run in an inning against Toledo and failed to strike out a batter after whiffing six in two prior innings.
Rocker did not speak with reporters after the game, spending more than an hour in the clubhouse while stadium security worked to clear reporters from the tunnel outside the Braves' locker room. When he emerged, he sped off with a female companion.
But Alvarez said Rocker earned the return trip to the big leagues with his pitching, and that he thanked the Braves for helping him during his 6-day stay.
"I don't think anybody likes to be sent down, ... certainly not from the major leagues to Triple-A," Alvarez said. "But he did exactly what I expected he would do, which was to go out there and pitch like the closer that he is."
The injury to Seanez allowed Atlanta to recall Rocker sooner than the 10-day minimum that would have otherwise applied. And it brought to an abrupt end the rock star-like treatment shown him by teammates and fans at Triple-A ballparks.
An expectant crowd of 6,459, double what Richmond normally draws for a Tuesday night game, turned out for Rocker's first appearance in the city since 1998. Almost all of them waited out a 2½-hour rain delay to see him.
Teammates said beforehand that Rocker fit right in and was a delight.
"He's just one of the guys," pitcher Tim Pugh said before the game. "I haven't heard one negative thing out of his mouth. I think he's got his mind right."
Derrin Ebert agreed and said Rocker had been a welcome addition because of his ability to close out games for Richmond, which has won just 18 of its 63 games.
"When he steps on that mound, there's so much intimidation that he brings with him," Ebert said before Tuesday night's game. "The two times that he's come in, he's just dominated."
Rocker's arrival in the dugout in the bottom of the seventh inning caused a stir that built to a roar. The distraction was such that many fans missed Toby Rumfield's bases-loaded single to right that gave Richmond a 3-1 lead, and the ensuing play at the plate to end the inning.
And they went near-delirious when he sprinted to the bullpen gate to start the ninth and made his trademrk dash in from the outfield. Most in the crowd were standing and cheering wildly, making a smattering of boos barely audible.
It was a hero's welcome, one tempered only moderately by consecutive singles by Billy McMillon and Gabe Alvarez to start the inning. Two long fly balls brought McMillon home before Chris Wakeland bounced into a game-ending forceout.
Then, it was on to Pittsburgh for Rocker, the exiled reliever who can only hope the first-place Braves will be as happy to see him as he is to see them.
©2000 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed