Soria eager to lock down AL All-Star win
He may not get opportunity, but KC closer will be ready
ANAHEIM -- Joakim Soria is thrilled to be an American League All-Star for the second time. The only downside is that this time he won't get to sit in the bullpen with the Yankees' Mariano Rivera.
Rivera was scratched from the AL roster because of a knee injury, but while Soria will miss visiting with him in the 'pen, it might just open up a big opportunity for the Royals' closer. After all, Soria had assumed that if a save situation came up on Tuesday night, it'd be Rivera going against the National League. Now, it could be Soria, however indications are AL manager Joe Girardi is leaning toward using Tigers closer Jose Valverde in the role.
"It's the manager's decision," Soria said. "If he puts me in the game in the ninth inning, or whatever he wants to do, I'm going to be there for them. I'm going to be ready."
Soria is more than capable. He's notched 25 saves in 27 chances this season for the Royals while compiling a 2.31 ERA and piling up 43 strikeouts in 35 innings.
Selected for the 2008 Midsummer Classic at Yankee Stadium, where he got to schmooze with his hero Rivera, Soria was plugged into the AL's 15-inning, 4-3 victory in the 11th inning. He got through the 11th, giving up just a single to Adrian Gonzalez, but encountered a sticky situation in the 12th.
The inning started with a walk, a bunt single and a sacrifice. Soria intentionally walked Miguel Tejada to load the bases and struck out Dan Uggla. At that point, Soria had made 30 pitches and Gonzalez, a left-handed batter, was up again. So manager Terry Francona called left-hander George Sherrill out of the bullpen and that strategy worked splendidly. Gonzalez struck out.
Not that Soria couldn't adroitly handle such a jam. He's done that quite often for the Royals.
"I've had a lot of really good closers. I've had All-Star closers," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "Danny Kolb, Derrick Turnbow, Eric Gagne, Francisco Cordero, but [Soria] is as smooth and efficient and gets the job done as consistently as anybody I've ever had. There's a lot less stress, a lot less worry for me.
"When we bring him in, it seems like the tougher the situation the better he gets. He ups his game subconsciously, I think. I don't think that he goes in and says, 'Oh, I'm in trouble, I've got to ramp it up.' But when he gets in trouble, his game gets better. And that's the mark of a specialized closer. That no matter what the circumstance is, he always finds a way to rise to the occasion."
Yost said he's felt that way before only when he was a catcher with the Brewers and Rollie Fingers was the closer in the early '80s.
"When Rollie came in the game, it was over," Yost said. "We went one year where I don't think he even made a bad pitch. He was on the black at the knees with everything that he threw -- fastball, slider to righties; fastball, splits to lefties. He would come in in the eighth and it was boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, the game was over. He made it a seven-inning game. And that was in 1981 when he won the Cy Young and the MVP."
Soria, it seems, ranks in very distinguished company.