MERCED -- Even as the pennant race got hotter, Brian Fuentes found his mind wasn't on baseball.
The graduate of Merced High unexpectedly found himself in St. Louis after the Oakland A's released him in early July.
Fuentes made six appearances with the Cardinals before requesting a leave from the team to deal with family issues in Merced. He went on the restricted list then opted not to return in the 2012. The four-time All-Star made his final pitch Aug. 8 against the Giants.
Fuentes announced his retirement last weekend, ending a 12-year career.
"Ultimately, I was just having trouble with the time away from my family," Fuentes said. "I've been playing baseball for all of their lives, but I'd never been so far away as when I was in St. Louis.
"I think at one point I went, like, two months without seeing them. Coming home and being able to put them to bed at night made me realize what I was missing."
Fuentes finished the year 2-2 with a 7.20 earned run average and five saves in 32 appearances between the A's and Cardinals.
While it wasn't the final season Fuentes would have hoped for statistically, he was pleased to go out on his terms.
"I felt like there was something left in the tank, but ultimately you start thinking about what you're playing for. When you're a kid, you get into it because you love the game. As I was fortunate enough to have opportunities in college, it got a little more serious.
"Once I got to the pros, it became very serious. As you climb the ladder and more money gets involved, it changes. ...
"I've had a great career. I never dreamed I'd have had the opportunities or some of the successes that I've had."
The left-hander with an unusual sidearm delivery had 204 saves, ranking him 41st all time. Fuentes is sixth on the all-time list for saves from a lefty. He finishes with a 26-43 record, 3.62 ERA and 639 strikeouts.
He pitched in three postseasons, including the 2009 AL Championship Series with the Los Angeles Angels and the 2007 World Series with the Colorado Rockies.
He also represented the United States in the inaugural World Baseball Classic.
"Probably the proudest moment of my career was pitching in the World Baseball Classic," Fuentes said. " To be out on that line wearing 'USA' on your jersey, surrounded by Hall of Famers, while the national anthem played. It was a special feeling."