DETROIT – Joe Nathan memorably collected the baseball from the final out of each of his 260 Twins saves. Now another Twin is doing the same.
It's a lot smaller collection, though. Justin Haley was presented the ball after Thursday's game to commemorate career save No. 1.
He hadn't expected the souvenir. Or the save.
"I was not" aware that he was eligible for a save in an 11-5 victory, Haley said. "I came in and everybody said, 'First save!' and I said, 'Ah, I don't think so.' "
Sure enough, though, if you pitch the final three innings of a victory — no matter how big the inherited lead — you qualify. The Twins hadn't had a reliever record 10 outs and earn a save since Brian Bass pitched four innings of a 12-5 win over Chicago on April 9, 2008.
"I'm just trying to be aggressive, throw strikes, and really, just eat innings," said the Twins' Rule 5 pick from last December. "The more innings I can eat up, it saves the other guys."
That's no small matter on a team so worried about limiting usage that it's carrying eight relievers.
"Haley did a great job. Only having to use two guys today, in a series where we didn't get a lot of depth from our starters" is a big help, starter Phil Hughes said. "To not have to burn anybody else is not something that will necessarily be written down in the paper, but it's something that really saves those guys."
He was more than effective, too. Haley struck out six of the 14 batters he faced, and his only mistake was a ninth-inning triple by JaCoby Jones that turned into a run. "His delivery and crossfire, I think he hides the ball really well," manager Paul Molitor said. "He had a couple of guys trying to wait him out, but he kept pumping strikes."
Byron Buxton decided before Thursday's game that if he got the chance he would lay down a bunt. That opportunity came in the sixth inning, and helped spark the Twins' five-run outburst.
"It was good to see," Molitor said of his slumping outfielder's infield single. "It's a little bit of a Catch-22 — if you've got to figure out your swing, you can't do it bunting. But you've got to take advantage of your tools and skill set."
Buxton, hitless in his previous 11 at-bats and 2-for-31 on the season at the time, spotted first baseman Miguel Cabrera playing well off the base, leading off the sixth. "I just picked a spot to the right of his foot," he said. "I just had to make sure I got it hard enough that I had a chance."
He did. Cabrera had to move to his right to field the ball, meaning pitcher Anibal Sanchez had to cover the base. And "not many pitchers can beat him to the base," Molitor said. Buxton easily beat Sanchez for his third hit of the season, and immediately stole second. A couple of pitches later, a ball rolled about 10 feet from catcher James McCann, and Buxton reached third base without a throw. He scored moments later on a Joe Mauer single.
"Any way I can get on to cause havoc on the bases, that will allow me to prove myself even more, to be more confident," Buxton said hopefully. "I'm making progress."
Molitor admitted that there was "a very, very small chance" that Eddie Rosario's foul ball had curled around the foul pole on Wednesday, but he asked umpires to review it anyway. "I was fairly sure it was foul, but every once in a while you can get fooled," Molitor said. "The ball was hit high, had a lot of slice, the wind was doing different things." Still, he said, "I was fairly sure it was foul."
So why the review? Molitor was coy about it, but the two-minute wait seemed to affect Tigers starter Michael Fulmer, who had trouble throwing strikes afterward. "There's a little delay when they look," the manager said with a smile.