Soria duplicates idol's All-Star outing
Royals righty, Yanks' Rivera both toss 1 2/3 scoreless innings
NEW YORK -- Before Tuesday's All-Star Game, Joakim Soria tended to his locker, squashed between fellow American League closers Jonathan Papelbon and Joe Nathan. He had already given the entire AL roster a jersey to autograph, but another was still to come from two lockers down.
Emerging from that corner locker was Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who whooshed by and dropped off Soria's No. 48 Royals jersey, a note penned with a Sharpie -- in Spanish -- placed above the numbers.
"I got all of the people," said Soria of his first heavily inked jersey, then pointing to the second uniform sitting on his knee, "and this one especially for him."
Soria used to watch Rivera on television during his childhood in Monclova, Mexico, even though he was an Atlanta Braves fan. After all of those Yankees games on TV, Soria got to see the Panamanian Rivera in person at the 79th All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium.
Not only did he converse with Rivera before the game -- getting to know that he's a "great guy" -- Soria sat next to Rivera in the bullpen. Then, he watched as the Yankees fixture went out onto the field for 1 2/3 scoreless innings in front of the home crowd.
Oh yeah, he got to pitch in the game, too, shaking off a few nerves and replacing Rivera in the 11th inning. Soria's contribution in the 4-3, 15-inning win for the AL matched his idol's in length, 1 2/3 innings, also adding two strikeouts by fanning two notorious hitters in Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla and Mets third baseman David Wright.
Still, before the game, Soria didn't want to say that striking anybody out would be his greatest joy. And please, don't compare him to Rivera, because it's not fair to the elder statesman. Simply enough, much of Soria's fun from this All-Star experience came from watching Rivera pitch.
"You can see that, when he pitches, it's amazing," Soria said. "He's straight relaxed and calm and gets outs, and even if it's the last game of the World Series, it's still the same guy, and it's amazing."
Since the Royals took him from the Padres in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft, Soria's production has made it hard to avoid comparisons to Rivera. Soria has produced a 2.09 ERA for Kansas City in two seasons, along with a 1.47 ERA in 40 games this season. Heading into the season's second half, Soria currently ranks fifth in the Majors with 25 saves.
While other players were drawing up final memories of Yankee Stadium, Soria spent this first All-Star press conference basking in the glow of Rivera. At 24 years old, Soria is just starting to make a name for himself. And the truth is, the names Soria and Rivera could never compare, especially not now.
"I think that's not fair. He's a big guy," Soria said. "He's had a great career. I am happy when people say that, but it's just too soon to do that."
Jon Blau is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.