Rough finish for Reds' Rolen
By BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency
|Cincinnati Reds third baseman Scott Rolen hits an RBI single against the San Francisco Giants in the fourth inning of Game 2 in their MLB NLDS playoff baseball series in San Francisco, California October 7, 2012. (REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)
CINCINNATI, OHIO - If it was the end, it did not end well.
Cincinnati Reds third baseman Scott Rolen swung through a Sergio Romo slider in the ninth inning Thursday, ending a 6-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants at Great American Ballpark. The Reds were a Rolen home run swing away from winning the game -- and the division series -- as Joey Votto and Ryan Ludwick were on base with singles.
Is that it for Rolen? Will he retire?
After the game, Rolen gave a Rolen shrug, raised an eyebrow and twisted the corner of his mouth into a half smirk, the same way he responded to questions when he was in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform a few years ago.
Sometimes you could interpret a "yes" or a "no."
Rolen turns 38 in April and injuries limited him to 80 starts this season. Heir apparent Todd Frazier impressed playing first and third, hitting 19 homers.
"Does this mean you want to be come back to Blue Jays?" the pending free agent was asked.
No need to translate that one.
We'd heard of players wanting to play on the West Coast (Mark Langston), or closer to home (Andy Pettitte and Al Leiter) or with a winner (Jack Morris, Dave Winfield).
Rolen was the first we'd heard of who wanted to be dealt to the Midwest. Born and bred in Evansville, Ind., Rolen lives in Bloomington, Ind., and is a devoted family man. After he joined the Jays in 2008 he bought a condo in Toronto for his parents and got a skybox at Rogers Centre.
In Game 3 of the division series against San Francisco, Rolen tried to field a dribbler from Joaquin Arias with two out in the top of the 10th. The ball popped out of his glove and his throw was too late to get the speedy Arias. The Reds lost 2-1, the first of three consecutive setbacks at home.
Then came Rolen's strikeout in Game 5 to complete the Reds' early post-season exit.
Now cameras moved in: "Will you play next season or retire?"
"I don't know," Rolen told reporters. "I'm going to go home, be a dad, move forward, see what happens. My contract's up. Sometimes you can't make your own decision. We'll see what's going on."
A TV reporter said he wouldn't ask Rolen if he had made a decision about retirement.
Rolen replied: "You just did."
Did he have anything left in the tank?
"Like another game? I don't know," Rolen said.
For a guy who won eight Gold Gloves -- only Mike Schmidt had more among third basemen -- a guy with a career .281 batting average, it was a terrible, terrible way to finish.
An E-5 for the game winner in Game 3, he watched the ugly Game 4 loss and struck out to end Game 5 representing the winning run.
Rolen, the 1997 rookie of the year at age 22,often was sidelined throughout his career with shoulder problems. In only seven of 17 seasons did he play more than 140 games.
If it was the end, Rolen deserved a better ending.
In Philadelphia, where Rolen spent the first 6 1/2 seasons of his career, Phillies fans already are lobbying for Rolen to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame, ranking him with the likes of third basemen Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, Chipper Jones, Brooks Robinson and Ron Santo. All are in Cooperstown save for Jones who isn't eligible yet, having retired just nine days ago.
I saw Rolen this week before Game 3 when he came out of the Reds first-base dugout. He shook my hand and said "congratulations on your (Taylor Spink) award ... and thanks for mentioning Vuke in the paper."
John Vukovich was Rolen's mentor with the Phillies and a man with a sense of humour. Vukovich died in 2007 at age 59.
Rolen also played for the St. Louis Cardinals before joining Toronto for almost two seasons. The Jays sent Rolen to the Reds at the trade deadline in 2009 for slugger Edwin Encarnacion, plus minor-leaguers Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart.
I ran into Rolen in April after an interview with Votto at Great American Ballpark.
"You covering the Reds and Canada's highest-paid athlete all year?" Rolen asked.
I said no.
We came up with the idea that Rolen would tell Votto that I had been "assigned" to cover the Canadian first baseman for the entire season.
"Like those writers who fly over from Japan and cover one guy -- Hideki Matsui or Ichiro Suzuki," Rolen said. "I can tell him that with a straight face. Imagine someone having to talk to YOU every day."
We both laughed. But I never asked Rolen for Votto's reaction.
Hopefully, there is a chance next season.