NEW YORK -- Francisco Rodriguez has had plenty of big saves in his career. Playoff saves. A major-league record 62 saves in 2008.
But a four-out save in the eighth game of the 2011 season was one of the most important of his 10-year big-league career.
"That's why I've been working so hard in the winter," he said. "I've been working to get the first save, get the first one out of the way."
On Aug. 11, after a Mets loss at Citi Field, Rodriguez was arrested and charged with assault after allegedly punching Carlos Peña -- father of the mother of Rodriguez's children. The Mets suspended him for two games. He pitched once before being shut down for the season with a thumb injury, suffered during the altercation.
He said Saturday night's save was "a big one."
"It's very important to me," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez also had his first plate appearance of his career on Saturday.
He struck out swinging to end a five-pitch at-bat in the bottom of the eighth. He said afterward that his last at-bat came in a 2003 spring training game with the Angels; Rodriguez's manager at the time, Mike Scioscia, told him to take every pitch.
On Saturday, he took four hard swings at Doug Slaten's offerings.
"I knew I wasn't going to strike out looking so whatever I see out there, just take a hack," he said.
Rodriguez entered the game with two out in the eighth and induced a ground ball to second from closer Matt Stairs.
"I wasn't able to hit the corners and that's why I got those two walks," he said.
Before Friday's home opener at Citi Field, Rodriguez admitted that there were times in the 2010 offseason that he didn't think he'd be back with the Mets.
The team attempted to place him on the disqualified list and convert his contract to nonguaranteed after the incident with his girlfriend's father.
In the ensuing grievance settlement, Rodriguez forfeited the remaining $3.1 million owed to him in 2010. The Mets agreed to reinstate him from the disqualified list for Opening Day. He also plea-bargained his criminal charges to undergo a year of weekly anger-management training.
When Rodriguez's name was announced before the first pitch Friday, the sparse crowd at Citi Field showered him with boos.
"There's rules and when you break the rules, you're going to pay the consequence," Rodriguez said before Friday's game. "This is a perfect day for them to show their emotion, whether it's good or bad. I have to take it how it is and turn everything around."
Rodriguez is in the third year of a three-year, $37 million contract. He has a fourth-year vesting option if he finishes 55 games this season. He finished his second game of the season on Saturday.
Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.