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One day during some future baseball season, Tigers fans will look up to the sky and ask, "Jonesy, where art thou?"
Unfortunately, as mentioned, that day will be in the future. As for the present, Comerica Park patrons appear to love Todd Jones as much as the Michigan economy.
That, also, is unfortunate. And ignorant. And just plain stupid. Whenever Jonesy gives up a ninth-inning hit, loud groans are heard all over the ballpark. And when he allows a run -- OH MY GOD, A RUN!!! -- the booing starts. Never mind that it might not of been his fault. In Detroit, if Jones is on the mound, he's the scapegoat. No ifs, ands or buts.
Take Thursday's devastating 7-6, 11-inning loss to the Twins: Jones entered in the top of the ninth inning with Detroit holding a 6-4 lead. He promptly gave up singles to the first two batters, and both hitters ended up scoring to tie the game. What the average fan in attendance couldn't seem to grasp, however, is that if not for right fielder Matt Joyce's gaffe on the second single, which allowed the first baserunner to score and the batter to advance to third, Jones would have gotten the save.
Because the following batter flied out to left field, which in reality was a sacrifice fly but should have been, simply, the first out of the inning, and should have held the runner at first. The next batter grounded back to Jones, which -- in an errorless world -- would have been a game-ending double play.
So blame Joyce, not Jones, for what transpired. When fans mercilessly "booooooooooed!!!!!" Jones after he was pulled following a two-out single, they, apparently, didn't understand how the lead had ultimately been lost.
Tigers fans have been hating Jones for years, yet he continues to deliver for their team. Not brilliantly, that's for sure, but he gets the job done. A hardworking, blue-collar city like Detroit should appreciate that. (Then again, with ticket prices and the economy these days, most fans who can afford to sit within shouting distance of the diamond are from Rochester.)
Jonesey doesn't strikeout a lot of guys like fan-favorite Joel Zumaya. He doesn't have a pitch that makes you exclaim, "Wow, that had more movement than a cakewalk full of 5-year-olds." But he gets guys out. And he saves games. Basically, he does his job.
Cue the evidence trailer:
Thanks to Joyce's dumb play, Jones has now converted only 16 of 18 save opportunities. Of the 24 closers with at least 16 saves, only two -- the Yankees' Mariano Rivera, only the best finisher, arguably, of all time; and Philadelphia's Brad Lidge -- have fewer blown saves.
Granted, Jones' 16 saves ranks just 23rd in the majors, but you can only do your job when you get the opportunity, right? Maybe the Tigers should experiment with more close games.
You want more? OK, I'll go back a year. At the young age of 39, Jones converted 38 of 44 chances in 2007. Of the 18 closers with at least 30 saves, nine had more blown saves than Jones' six. Only two of the eight pitchers with more saves had fewer blown saves. Sounds like a guy to boo, huh?
Listen, I understand where the fans are coming from. They want young blood. They're sick of the mustache and the fastballs that barely break 90 mph these days. They can't wait for Zumaya to become Detroit's closer, to run in from the bullpen as "Wild Thing" blares from the speakers. I can't even remember if music is played when Jones makes his bland entrance.
There's no spectacle, nothing to get excited about. Just nervousness, just tension. Now what kind of ninth-inning party is that??
I hear you, I hear you. And Zumaya will get his chance. Jones ain't getting younger, and at some point he's gonna say, "You know what, I don't need this any more." But for now, he's the best closer the Tigers got, because Zumaya has a tendency to hurt himself playing "Guitar Hero" and carrying around boxes (always a dangerous activity) and hard-throwing Fernando Rodney has this tendency to walk opposing batters (translation: not good).
So deal with it, folks. Todd Jones has been the Tigers closer, and he'll continue to fill that role for the time being.
If you want to boo him, fine. But just realize that a loss isn't always his fault.
And know that when it comes to saving games, he remains one of baseball's best.