Zumaya earns first Major League save

Zumaya earns first Major League save

TORONTO -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland sometimes picks a topic and runs with it when he talks with reporters. Sunday morning's topic was the save rule, and the difference between working with a three-run lead and working with a one-run lead.

Joel Zumaya's first Major League save came a few hours later. It'll go down as a 10-5 win in which Zumaya started with a three-run lead and went three innings. But as Leyland said, "it wasn't like a freebie."

Zumaya hopes he'll have tougher. "Hopefully there's many to come," he said.

Zumaya entered in the seventh with the potential tying run at the plate and no outs in the seventh and needed just seven pitches to escape. Then he retired the side on a walk in the eighth. He retired the side in order in the ninth and hit 100 mph on the Rogers Centre radar gun at least five times, including 102 on his 34th pitch of the game.

"He gets it up there pretty good," Leyland said.

So well, in fact, that he felt like he could've gone another inning if the game called for it. The only person that was going to take Zumaya out of the game was Zumaya, which frighteningly almost happened.

Zumaya entered with the Blue Jays putting together the groundwork for another late-inning comeback. They had turned a 5-2 Tigers lead into a 10-5 Tigers loss with an eight-run inning Friday night, and they had the tying run on base in the ninth inning Saturday. Zumaya was facing the would-be tying run at the plate with his first batter Sunday.

Though Leyland had talked about giving Zumaya another day of rest, he told Zumaya before the game that he was the closer for the day with Todd Jones off. Thus, when the phone rang in the seventh inning, it was a surprise for Zumaya, who sheepishly admitted he was alternating his attention between the game and World Cup soccer on a nearby TV.

"He wanted to be off today so he could watch Mexico," Leyland joked.

Mexico had already won. The Tigers hadn't.

"Next thing you know, I'm out there," Zumaya said.

Next thing the Blue Jays knew, their chance to tie the game was gone. Zumaya's second pitch shattered Shea Hillenbrand's bat for a popup to short. Two pitches later, Bengie Molina flied out to right. Zumaya finished it off by fanning Lyle Overbay on three fastballs, the last two at 99 mph.

For a change, Zumaya wasn't watching the radar gun, so he didn't know his readings. Still, he was just getting started. He hit 100 mph in the eighth against Reed Johnson, whose walk made him the only runner to reach base. Zumaya struck out Alex Rios to end the inning.

With just 24 pitches through two innings, Zumaya was headed for the ninth. He actually got stronger. Five of his six pitches to Vernon Wells registered at 98 mph or harder before Wells flied out to center.

Zumaya threw his first two pitches at 100 mph, the next at 101, and the next at 102. The 102 drew oohs and aahs from what was the left of 30,404 in attendance. The next pitch scared the Tigers.

Zumaya threw a 98-mph pitch in the dirt and Ivan Rodriguez came to the mound. Soon after came Leyland and head athletic trainer Kevin Rand.

As it turned out, it wasn't for an arm injury. "I have a real quick slide step," Zumaya said. "I caught my spike and it kind of tweaked my ankle."

Leyland figured it wasn't his arm, because he didn't grimace.

"He said, 'Are you sure you're all right?'" Zumaya said of Leyland. "I said, 'Yeah, I'm fine.' And he was like, 'Well, why do you have me out here?'"

Crisis averted, Zumaya tuned his fastball back up to 99 mph to fan Troy Glaus, then induced another popout from Hillenbrand.

Zumaya figured his family back in San Diego would be celebrating -- partly for his save, partly for Mexico's win. He hopes to get his manager to watch a soccer game with him. That will be a tougher challenge.

"He'll be a manager before I'll be a soccer fan," Leyland said.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.