ST. LOUIS -- Three days after Steve Finley hit a division-clinching grand slam for the Dodgers off Giants left-hander Wayne Franklin, the question was put to Ray King on Tuesday morning in a Busch Stadium interview room:
"How much do you look at Finley and [Shawn] Green, left-handed hitters that you might have to get out in a tough situation?"
It figures to be one of the frequently discussed subjects during this National League Division Series that was just about to begin.
"Well, fortunately I just played these games in L.A. I won't really change a whole lot," King said. "I just look at what they've done against me, what I've done against other lefties like Steve and some other guys in the league. I won't change anything. I'm throwing hard sinker in, slider away, and, hey, let's go."
King and Steve Kline are two of the best situational lefties in the business. King, acquired along with Jason Marquis in the mutually beneficial offseason trade that sent J.D. Drew to Atlanta, appeared in 86 games and compiled a 2.61 ERA with a svelte 1.08 WHIP. His numbers took their most noticeable leap in terms of holds: 31, or 14 more than in any previous season. Meanwhile, Kline was racking up a 1.79 ERA and 1.07 WHIP to go with 15 holds.
Look for key matchups involving them against one of the better left-handed hitting teams in the game. A King-Finley matchup would be particularly alluring. Finley has been clutch for Los Angeles, and especially against lefties. He bucked conventional wisdom by hitting .308 against them compared to only .245 against righties. Green hit .281 against righties and .232 against lefties.
"I take pride in my job," King said. "I've been doing this for five years. I set a [personal] mark in pitching in 86 games. I faced the Bondses, the Griffeys, the Caseys, the Finleys. I have a pretty good track record against these guys, and when I walk away from this game, I want to be known as the best situational lefty that ever played."
Then King was asked which person currently holds that distinction. It's not something a pitcher typically would be gunning for, say, 30 or 40 years ago.
"As far as service time, if you look at the Jesse Oroscos and the guys that have been playing for 20-something years, he's faced most lefties, but I think up and coming right now, myself and Steve Kline. I think we're probably 1-2 in the league."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has made a career out of maneuvering a bullpen to the hilt, and the work of Kline and King reminds one of the days of Rick Honeycutt in Oakland and then St. Louis. How important does La Russa think the King-Kline tandem will be against these Dodgers left-handed hitters?
Steve Kline / P
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: L
"That's been a huge edge for us all year long, but some clubs just aren't real left-handed, and the Dodgers do have some left-handers you've got to get out," La Russa said. "The thing about those good left-handed hitters is, they face the left-handed pitcher, you know. They've been facing them and have been very successful.
"That's where our guys have made really good pitches. I think they can be an important part of our bullpen, but they've also got some right-handed good hitters. I think our bullpen will be an important part of this series, but having Ray and Steve has got us a lot of extra wins."
The last time these clubs met was Sept. 12, when the Cardinals salvaged a 7-6 win to avoid being swept in Los Angeles. In that game, King threw 1 1/3 perfect innings and might have played the largest role. Now he is pitching again in the postseason, after waiting a long time to find out which kind of situations he might face.
"I think the only concern has been you guys as the media that said we haven't been playing great baseball," King said. "We haven't done many things, but if you look at our lineup lately, [Scott] Rolen was out of the lineup. You take Rolen out of our lineup at third base, that could be a difference of three or four home runs or five or six great plays in the field. We had Jimmy [Edmonds] resting some. We didn't have our full nine guys in the lineup. We won 105 ballgames this year. You can't take that away from us. We are prepared and ready."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.