Soria named an All-Star for second time
Closer is Royals' only representative to Midsummer Classic
ANAHEIM -- The ultimate dream for a young reliever like Joakim Soria might be to finish off an All-Star Game victory for the American League.
Soria, the Kansas City Royals' premier closer, could have that chance after being named on Sunday as the team's lone representative for the July 13 Midsummer Classic at Anaheim.
Or maybe not.
"That's really impossible, because you've got the great Mariano [Rivera] in there and he's the one that's going to close the game," Soria said.
"I don't know what's going to be my role in this one but I'm just going to enjoy the game. If I throw, it's OK. If I don't throw, I'm still going to enjoy the game."
Getting to know Rivera, the Yankees' legendary closer, was a memorable part of Soria's first All-Star experience in 2008. Picked this time by AL manager Joe Girardi, this is his second selection in three years.
"It's really important to me and my career and my family in Mexico and my team," Soria said on Sunday in Anaheim.
Soria is just the sixth Mexican-born player to be picked for at least two All-Star Games. Fernando Valenzuela was named six times and Bobby Avila three times. Soria joins Jorge Orta, Vinny Castilla and Esteban Loaiza as those named twice.
It was at Angel Stadium that Soria notched his 22nd save in 24 opportunities on Saturday night in a 4-2 victory. He shares the American League lead in saves with the Texas Rangers' Neftali Feliz and has a 2.56 ERA in 31 games with 38 strikeouts and just eight walks in 31 2/3 innings.
Selected in 2008 en route to a 42-save season, he pitched in the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium and contributed 1 2/3 scoreless innings to the AL's 15-inning, 4-3 victory.
Royals manager Ned Yost was asked what impressed him most about Soria.
"That he does it quietly. As much or more than any closer I've ever had, when we get into the eighth inning and we've got the lead, I relax. I know that when [Soria] comes in, the game's going to be over. A lot more times than not, we're going to win," Yost said.
Yep, they don't often play the taunting "Hit the Road, Jack" in opposition ballparks after Soria enters the fray. In his 123 save opportunities in his career so far, he's converted 111, or 90.2 percent.
There's no doubt about what Royals pitching coach Bob McClure believes is Soria's best attribute.
"I think it's confidence. To me, that's the biggest factor in a guy's success. You can tell them all you want as a teacher, but they've got to really believe in all their heart and soul that they're the best," McClure said.
"If it doesn't work out, he's really angry, because he has real high standards for himself."
It's an oft-told story about how the Royals swiped Soria from the San Diego Padres in the Rule 5 Draft of 2006. He seemingly came equipped with more than just a good variety of pitches and an idea where to throw them.
"He's fearless. The confidence that he has, you can't teach that," McClure said.
"He has a good feel for the game. How many relievers do you see that can hold runners like he does? Or field a position like he can? He's just a good athlete with a lot of confidence."
Soria on the mound seems unflappable. Take Saturday night's game against the Angels. He eased out of a bases-loaded, one-out situation with finesse and struck out Hideki Matsui, a tough left-handed hitter, to end the game.
His cool demeanor is obvious in every outing.
"It's rare. The good closers have it," Yost said. "They can't get rattled by getting those last three outs no matter what the situation is. [Soria] knows he's only a pitch away from being out of it, or two at the most, and he trusts it and it shows. I mean, he's always calm, he's never frazzled and he always finds a way to get the job done."
Fans, having already decided the starters and this week the final player on each team, once again will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevy via the 2010 All-Star Game MVP Vote sponsored by Sprint on MLB.com during the All-Star Game.
The 81st All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau des Sports, and around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 7 p.m. CT. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
And once again, Soria will be in the middle of it as one of the best players in the game.
"I don't think I'm one of the best," he said. "I just love my game and I love being a baseball player and enjoy any time that I pitch."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.