ANAHEIM -- Prior to every Los Angeles Angels' home game, a video plays. It's a simple franchise history video set to the song, "Calling All Angels" by the rock band, Train. Just seconds prior to them showing the most illustrious moment in the Angels' franchise, a World Series victory, one short clip flashes.
"Frankie Rodriguez strikes out the side!"
The year was 2002, and Francisco Rodriguez was one month past his Major League Baseball debut, and two-and-a-half months short of his 21st birthday. It was the eighth inning of game seven of the World Series, and the 20-year-old Venezuelan set the San Francisco Giants down on 16 pitches.
At that point, many knew Rodriguez was special, but didn't realize how special he'd become.
Just short of 14 years later, Francisco Rodriguez took the mound, struck out a pair, and walked off as part of the victory. Preserved a win, and collected a statistical save. Something he'd done over 400 times in his career.
However, the trip to the mound Wednesday afternoon was not like the others. It had been eight seasons since "K-Rod" took the mound at Angel Stadium, the very location his career began.
"Normally, it's a good feeling [coming back]," said Detroit Tigers manager, Brad Ausmus. "Brings back good memories, and [Francisco] had a pretty good team when he was here."
Rodriguez has now been a member of four different teams aside from the Angels, and is manning the ninth-inning for the Tigers as a 34-year-old. He's tacked on 401 career saves in his career, good enough for sixth all-time in the category. If he continues at the current pace he's at, he could work his way upwards of fourth all-time by the end of this season.
His fastball velocity has decreased by nearly four miles per hour since his final season with the Los Angeles Angels, according to FanGraphs, when he shattered the single-season record for saves in a season at 62. How long can he keep up being a premier closer in the league?
“No one has a crystal ball,” said Angels manager, Mike Scioscia. “There are guys that have done that for a long time and lasted for a long time. Francisco’s stuff isn’t quite what it was when he was with us, but he’s maintained velocity with the changeup... He’s not intimidated by anything out there on the mound no matter where he’s pitching or who he’s pitching against.”
Were there familiar feelings for K-Rod from 2008 when he took the mound Wednesday night, one he'd gone to over 200 times to face over 900 hitters?
"Usually there's connections, friendships," Ausmus said. "Just coming back to the stadium probably feels familiar to him but usually it's relationships that you built."
Only one teammate from Rodriguez's time with the Halos remains on the current roster - Jered Weaver. Those familiar faces have gone elsewhere in their lives. Some playing for other teams, some in the broadcast booth, some in Front Offices, some just enjoying life away from baseball.
Rodriguez has strung together a fantastic career away from the Angels, with those numbers and nights on the mound in Anaheim a big part of the overall package. Is it enough to put him in the coveted Hall of Fame, among baseball's greatest players? Mariano Rivera? Trevor Hoffman?
"Absolutely," declared Scioscia.