John Axford caught off guard by trade to Dodgers

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OAKLAND, Calif. – John Axford had asked around ahead of Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline and the sense was he’d be staying put with the Toronto Blue Jays. So as the 1 p.m. PT cut-off approached, the Canadian reliever was out for brunch in Berkeley, Calif., getting ready for the night’s game as usual when his phone rang with news of his trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“The call was pretty much right at 1 o’clock,” Axford recalled Wednesday as he parted with the Blue Jays ahead of their series finale against the Oakland Athletics. “I remember leading up to the time thinking, ‘Alright, I guess I’m going to be fine, I’ll just enjoy this brunch.’ Nope. I got the call at 1:00 and I had no idea until that point. Then it throws you for a loop of emotions.”

On the one hand, the 35-year-old from Port Dover, Ont., was excited about what he described as “a great opportunity career-wise and baseball-wise,” with the defending National League champions and the potential of pitching in the post-season for the first time since 2013.

On the other, Axford was disappointed to leave the Blue Jays and their proximity to home and his family. He’d also formed a tight bond with his fellow relievers over the past four months, which he said was special given how it developed in such a short timeframe.

“My experience was incredible. As clichéd as it may sound, it was a dream come true to be able to play for the Blue Jays,” he said. “Growing up a fan and living in the area, going to Blue Jays games as a kid, it was pretty spectacular to be able to put on that uniform and play for that team. Moving forward, going to play for the Dodgers is something I’m looking forward to. It’s exciting to go from a fourth-place team to a first-place team, have a shot at playing in the playoffs and moving on from there. That’s pretty special baseball.”

Axford would have made his second career start in Thursday’s series opener against the Seattle Mariners and joked about having that taken away from him. Start No. 1 last weekend, in career appearance No. 538, included three innings of one-hit ball with three strikeouts against the White Sox.

Instead, he’ll head a few hours south to Los Angeles and connect with the Dodgers in the midst of their homestand.

“I’m not saying your team comes to the park differently when your team is in fourth place compared to when your team is in first, but there’s a different aura, a different presence and you can feel that,” he said. “I’m going to be able to feed off that and really enjoy these last couple of months.”

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