King, Ayala Foil Phillies In 7th to Preserve Victory
Thursday, August 16, 2007
In the box score this morning, Chad Cordero is credited with his 27th save, a distinction earned because he pitched a perfect ninth inning in the Washington Nationals' 4-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. It was Cordero who was there to bump fists with catcher Brian Schneider, to lead the celebration of a win that featured a home run from Ryan Church and another solid outing from right-hander Tim Redding.
But every single one of the Nationals who dressed to the thumping beats from the stereo in the home clubhouse at RFK Stadium understood that the key outs -- perhaps the actual save -- came from the men who preceded Cordero, first lefty Ray King, then right-hander Luis Ayala. Those two worked in a seventh inning when they inherited a mess -- bases loaded, nobody out, one run in to cut the lead to two -- and provided the following results: strikeout, strikeout, fielder's choice grounder. Crisis defused.
"That's dynamite," said Redding, who won for just the second time but held his ERA at 2.88. "You can't ask for anything better than that."
King, for one, doesn't. He is employed in the major leagues not because he is a fitness guru, and he occasionally struts around the home clubhouse wearing a T-shirt with the logo of a certain fast-food chain, replacing the word "Burger" with the word "Ray." His sense of humor is welcome in the clubhouse. But he has a job because he throws with his left arm, and he has a record -- over parts of nine seasons in the majors -- of being able to retire left-handed hitters.
So that's what he does, even if it takes just a couple of pitches. He has a saying -- "Get in, get out, before they figure you out" -- and it is something of the way he judges his performance. His two-thirds of an inning last night lowered his ERA to a rather ordinary 4.91.
"I could take my ERA and throw it out the window," he said. "I base my season on inherited runners and lefty-lefty."
So each day he comes home and evaluates: Did any of the runners who were on base when he came in score? And did he retire the lefties he was asked to face?
King got that opportunity last night because Redding pitched into the seventh inning and hit a two-run double in the second. The second inning was kept alive because right fielder Austin Kearns beat out a potential double play ball with no one out. Two batters later, Schneider ran hard on a bouncer to first that Ryan Howard couldn't seem to toss to the pitcher covering, two hustle plays that Manager Manny Acta cited as essential.
"That's the easiest part of the game," Kearns said, "is playing hard."
The Nationals' third run scored in the sixth when Kearns actually did hit into a double play, and Church's monstrous solo shot -- one that landed in Section 467 above right field -- put the Nationals up 4-1 entering the seventh.
That's when Redding began to tire. He walked the first man he faced, then allowed an infield single. That brought out Acta, who initially turned to right-hander Saul Rivera. But Rivera, normally reliable, couldn't get an out, walking Jayson Werth to load the bases, then allowing a run-scoring single to Chris Coste.
So out came Acta, this time to call on King. The Phillies had announced the left-handed hitting Russell Branyan -- he of the two-run, pinch-hit homer that beat Washington on Tuesday night -- to pinch-hit.