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the man who would be king

has randy flores supplanted ray king as the pen's #1 lefthander? cardnilly thinks so ("I wouldn't be all that surprised if Randy Flores is ahead of him on the Lefty Depth Chart"), and a look at la russa's recent deployments validate that opinion. king hasn't appeared in his traditional role -- setup man -- since may 9 against la, when tony brought him in to protect a 4-1 lead with two outs and two on in the eighth. on his first pitch, king yielded a run-scoring single to ricky ledee; he got out of the inning but gave up another single in the 9th, allowing milton bradley to come to the plate as the potential tying run. al reyes struck him out.

since then king has appeared in four games -- and in three of those appearances the cardinals trailed when la russa waved him in. the only lead he has been called upon to "protect" was an 8-3 bulge against the phillies wednesday night; he gave up a double to chavez and a single to abreu and then hit the showers without retiring anyone.

flores apparently became the "official" lh ace on may 15, when la russa entrusted him with a 4-2 lead in the series finale v the mets. none on, two out, 8th inning, and two cardinal killers -- carlos beltran and ray floyd -- due up. i was game threading that day, and when flores appeared i typed: "randy flores? c'mon tony . . . who is he saving ray king for?" (to which glennrwordman replied: "ray king will pitch to strawberry.") flores retired beltran on a deep fly to right.

and then last night, with one on and two out in the 8th, la russa handed a three-run lead to flores, who would have kept it intact but for an eckstein error. so it's no longer a question, it's a fact: flores and king have swapped roles. you look at their stat lines and it's hard to challenge the move: king has allowed 26 baserunners in 11.1 ip, flores just 18 baserunners in 15ip; king's walk-strikeout is 8-6, flores's is 5-17. it's a no-brainer. but if king hasn't got it back by july . . . . well, flores has pitched well but i don't want to see him on the mound for a make-or-break at-bat in september or october. at 29 years of age, he has pitched just 58 major-league innings and sports a career era of 5.43. here are his mlb stats and his complete minor league stats going all the way back to little league and 4th-grade recess.

billy wagner . . . . kent mercker . . . . wagner . . . . mercker . . . wagner mercker wagnermerckerwagnermerckerwagnermerckerwagnermercker

appearances since may 7:

may 19 v pha: 8th inn, cards behind 6-3
may 18 v pha: 7th inn, cards ahead 8-3
may 14 v nym: 7th inn, cards behind 6-5
may 10 v lad: 9th inn, cards behind 9-8
may 9 v lad: 8th inn, cards ahead 4-1
may 7 v sd: 9th inn, cards behind 6-5

may 20 v kc: 8th inn, cards ahead 7-4
may 17 v pha: 6th inn, cards behind 7-4
may 15 v nym: 8th inn, cards ahead 4-2 (beltran+floyd)
may 11 v lad: 8th inn, cards ahead 7-3
may 10 v lad: 7th inn, cards behind 9-8
may 7 v sd: 7th inn, cards ahead 5-3 (gave up 3 runs and took the loss)