Jones celebrates 300th career save
Reliever joins distinguished club after many different stops
MINNEAPOLIS -- It couldn't have been routine. That wouldn't be fitting.
For someone who received a nickname by the drama of his saves, Todd Jones' 300th career save was the kind that fans will remember -- not just for the drama, but that he silenced it. The bases were loaded with the tying and winning runs, and Michael Cuddyer was 3-for-7 off of him when he stepped to the plate. All he did from there was put two strikes over the plate and then induce a game-ending ground ball that gained the Tigers a sweep at the Metrodome and a game in the AL Central race.
"Ernie Harwell would be proud," Jones said with a sheepish smile. "I made Ernie proud today. He nicknamed me 'The Roller Coaster', and I earned it again today."
That nickname came during Jones' first stop in Detroit, when he set the franchise record with 42 saves in 2000 and was out of the closer's job and dealt to Minnesota a year later. It has proven to be a long-running ride with several stops.
"I was just thinking back and saying, 'Man I caught some of those saves,'" former Tigers catcher-turned-third-baseman Brandon Inge said.
Twenty other players in history have reached 300 saves, but just a few have had to win a job back along the way. The latter is why what makes Jones appreciate milestones so much. At 39 years old, he still carries the mentality of an unproven talent. Asked Sunday morning what has been the biggest obstacle for him to overcome, he had a quick and easy answer.
"Trying to convince baseball that I can still close," he said. "Because when I do my job, it's fine and everything. But when I blow one, it's like, 'What's this guy doing out there still?'"
It's mainly about the stuff. He doesn't boast the upper-90s fastball like others in his profession or like other relievers in Detroit's bullpen, and he doesn't really have a trick pitch. Instead, he has the ability to throw well-placed strikes and force hitters to put his pitch in play, and he has the ability to wipe the slate each time he takes the mound to protect the lead.
Only Trevor Hoffman and Francisco Rodriguez have more saves than Jones over the last three seasons. Of the other members of the 300-save club, just four -- Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley, Hoyt Wilhelm and Doug Jones -- have more saves at age 37 or older. Todd Jones added three more saves this weekend in a stretch where the Tigers desperately needed wins.
Not that Jones expects to go down in history. He just wants to be remembered.
"When I go to the Hall of Fame," he joked, "it'll be to use the bathroom."
Sunday wasn't expected to be a chance for him. The Tigers had a four-run lead midway through the third inning and then again entering the bottom of the eighth. Four walks by three different relievers in the eighth brought in the run that made it a save opportunity for Jones in the ninth.
A Luis Rodriguez leadoff triple and a Nick Punto RBI single to bring the potential tying run to the plate made it a thriller. It also brought manager Jim Leyland out to the mound.
"He came out there and he told the guys to stay away, and I knew there was something coming out of his mouth," Jones said. "He said, 'You've been here so many times. Just concentrate on making pitches and get out of the inning.'
"I was able to refocus. When you look right in his eyes and see, he's dead serious. He doesn't really care how old you are and how many times you got released and how many clubs you played with. He just wants outs. Kind of snaps you right back into focus."
Jason Tyner lined out to center, then Jones dropped a curveball on Jason Kubel for a called third strike. But Torii Hunter's ground ball was too deep in the hole for Ramon Santiago to get an out, then a four-pitch walk to Justin Morneau brought up Cuddyer.
It was the 168th plate appearance in Jones' career with the bases loaded. Opponents are batting .236 in those situations, about 20 points lower than they do off of him with the bases empty.
"They didn't call him Roller Coaster for nothing," Inge said.
Once Santiago fired over to Placido Polanco for the out, it was a celebration. Tigers players jogged out from the dugout to the mound to give him handshakes and hugs. They gathered in front of the dugout for a team picture.
"My idea," Jones admitted. "In people's careers, moments are better shared with your teammates and the people that helped you get there. Like I said, I'm not a Hall of Famer or anything. I'm exactly 64 percent as good as Trevor Hoffman."
From there, it was a party in the clubhouse, where teammates gave him a shaving cream pie. His dad, Bart Jones, drove up from Madison, Wis., to see the game and congratulate him. And he got the baseball from the final out, just as he has for about 285 of his saves.
It's those souvenirs, and the moments with teammates, that Jones will remember. When the Tigers were in Kansas City a few weeks ago, Jones made a point to talk with Buddy Bell, who gave him his chance as a closer in Detroit a decade ago.
Jones admitted before the game that the emotions are slightly different now. The highs of getting the saves aren't as high anymore as the lows of losses are low. But this one was a pretty good high point, and a good chance for Jones to joke around.
"I need to get one more so I'm not like Mr. 3000," Jones said. "Somebody might come back 15 years later and say we miscounted."
The sense of humor, at least, is still pretty high.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.