Rocker Recalled by Braves

Wednesday, June 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — His rock star run at Richmond is over. As John Rocker prepares to rejoin the Atlanta Braves in Pittsburgh, even he can't help but wonder how he'll be received by the same teammates who were thrilled to see him go.

Rocker was called up by the Braves on Tuesday night, apparently to replace Rudy Seanez on the roster after the reliever felt tightness in his right arm.

``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.''

The call-up comes just eight days after the Braves assigned the struggling left-handed closer to Richmond, ostensibly to work on his command, but most certainly also because his teammates had seen enough of his erratic behavior.

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 2 1/2 -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 has been a welcome addition because of his ability to close out games for Richmond, which had won just 17 of 45 games.

``When he steps on that mound, there's so much intimidation that he brings with him,'' Ebert said. ``The two times that he's come in, he's just dominated.''

Rcoker'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 trademark 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.