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Soria wins September's DHL Award

Soria wins September's DHL Award

KANSAS CITY -- Joakim Soria's perfect month had a perfect ending.

On Monday, Soria, the Royals' right-handed closer, was named the winner of the DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Month Award for September.

Virtually untouchable, Soria was 9-for-9 in save opportunities and had a 1-0 record and a 0.00 ERA in 10 appearances. He gave up just three hits in 10 1/3 innings.

On Sept. 15-17 against the Seattle Mariners, he recorded three saves in three games, pitching a 1-2-3 inning in each case. He was a key component of the Royals' 18-8 surge in September.

That was just the icing on Soria's cake and a season-long celebration of bullpen efficiency. He was 42-for-45 in save situations, and converted 18 of his last 19 chances. Opening the season with 16 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, he didn't allow a run until May 16. Soria also set a Royals record by beginning the season with 13 consecutive saves.

The Major League Baseball-sanctioned DHL Award recognizes the most outstanding reliever each month of the regular season. The award is selected by a panel that includes MLB.com columnist Mike Bauman, former outfielder Darryl Hamilton and Bob Watson, MLB's vice president of on-field operations.

In recognition of the honor, DHL will donate $1,500 to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City in Soria's name. The donation is made in conjunction with the Baseball Tomorrow Fund.

Soria is among 10 candidates for DHL's Delivery Man of the Year Award. Fans can vote for the winner online through Friday, Oct. 10, at MLB.com.

What Soria brought to the Royals, for the first time since Jeff Montgomery hung up his glove in 1999, was the virtual assurance of victory when he entered the game with a lead. He had saves in 42 of the Royals' 75 victories this year; that's 56 percent.

"He's had a tremendous impact," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "Just looking at the statistics and the number of saves in comparison to the number of team wins. And there's just a psychological advantage there for the whole team, just knowing that he's available and the consistency of the product he brings to the mound."

Soria had a 1.60 ERA in his 63 games, a 2-3 record and 66 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings. Opponents batted just .169 against him.

Taken in the Rule 5 Draft from the San Diego Padres at the 2006 Winter Meetings, he was in and out of the closer's role in his rookie season but finished 2007 with 17 saves.

This year, he was so accomplished that he was the Royals' representative in the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium and pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings. He struck out David Wright in his first inning, then survived a 12th-inning bases-loaded jam by fanning Dan Uggla.

"I always try to enjoy the game that I love," Soria said. "Enjoy my work and that's it.

"One day, they're going to hit you. They're going score runs, they're going to hit a home run, triples, doubles, singles. So why be afraid? The most important hitters get three hits out of 10 at-bats, so I've got the advantage. I just try to focus on the catcher's glove and get my pitches."

From Monclova, Mexico, he's proud of his heritage. Soria already holds the record for most saves by a Mexican-born pitcher. His 42 saves this season eclipsed Juan Acevedo's 28 for Detroit in 2002.

Importantly for a closer, he's unflappable in a close game or a tight situation.

"He's got a real great ability to just eliminate what happens. He feels bad about the home run, but he has the ability to set that aside and we'll worry about that later and get back in the count to the very next hitter," Hillman said. "You don't see him fall apart, and that's another one of his great strengths."

Early this season, the Royals recognized Soria's great value by signing him to a three-year contract extension through 2011 followed by three option years. Agent Oscar Suarez said the deal could be worth more than $32 million and keep Soria with the Royals through 2014.

As his season progressed, Soria found himself often surrounded by the media at various stops around the Majors. Like everything else, he took that in stride as well.

"Well, it's nice," he said, smiling. "It means I've been good."

Very good, indeed. He really delivered.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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