The 21-year-old fireballer's first World Series appearance will be remembered more for his throw wide of third base than any throw he had to the plate. But for those who are used to seeing him put up triple digits on radar guns around the Major Leagues, there were some puzzled looks going on during Game 3.
He entered the game in the sixth inning firing away, but the velocity readings at Busch Stadium were only in the mid-90s. The stadium readings, in fact, never topped 98 mph, and only reached that number once.
A dropoff in velocity wouldn't be all that surprising for Zumaya. After all, he missed the last three games of the ALCS with a sore right wrist, then had the six-day layoff before the World Series. Tuesday's outing was his first game action in exactly two weeks.
It was a reasonable explanation, except for the readings on television. While the stadium readings showed plenty of mid-90s, Zumaya was around his usual triple digits according to readings on the FOX network broadcast. And though FOX's readings were known to be a little high in previous postseason rounds, showing Zumaya as high as 103 mph, the television readings were generally within one or two mph of the stadium readings for Nate Robertson and Chris Carpenter over the first five innings on Tuesday.
One Zumaya pitch in the seventh inning clocked at 95 mph in the ballpark read 101 on the broadcast. Another clocked at 96 mph in the park showed up at 99 on television.
It was enough that fellow rookie Justin Verlander went to the clubhouse to check the broadcast.
"I don't know if it was something funny with the radar guns outside or not," he said. "I just knew Joel was a little down, he was coming off tendinitis with his arm and forearm. I just came up to check the TV guns to make sure he wasn't hurt. I went up and inquired if he was throwing like he normally does and the TV gun said yes. I don't know if there was an issue or not."
The Tigers don't know the radar accuracy here nearly as well as they do for those in most American League parks. Beyond that, after all the publicity given to Kenny Rogers and Dirtgate, the last thing the Tigers want is another episode of what manager Jim Leyland would call silly stuff.
"You talk to somebody, and FOX will tell you [it's] for ratings," Todd Jones said. "You talk to other people and they'll say the Cardinals want to tone the gun down. It just depends on who you want to believe.
"Maybe it was 95 Canadian. I don't know. Maybe it was metric."
Zumaya wasn't available for comment before Wednesday's game. He told Booth Newspapers on Tuesday night that he wasn't looking at the radar readings during Tuesday's outing, though he has been known to do it in other parks.
"Everybody knows he checks the gun in every stadium he's in," Verlander said. "He says in every stadium, he knows where the radar guns are and he checks them. If he thinks the radar guns are low, and it gets in his head, there might be something to it, but I don't think that really matters to Joel. He just likes to check to see where he's at."
Jones, who has mentored the rookie this season, concurred.
"He knows how hard he throws," Jones said. "You're not going to mess with him."
Yet in a World Series that has already had its share of conspiracy theories, it was an interesting addition.
"I would consider that the greatest compliment ever if an organization thought enough of you to turn the radar guns down," said Jones. "I saw something when I was with [A.J.] Burnett [playing for Florida]; we were in Pittsburgh, and it was the first inning, and he was throwing 104. And in between innings, they sent an electrician up with one of those tuning forks to check the radar gun. And I'm thinking, 'Wow, somebody get a picture of that. That's like the coolest thing ever.'
"But if they turn it down for Zoomie, this is getting bigger than any of us ever thought it was. The legend of Sidd Finch lives."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.