Ayala was signed by Cincinnati in June 1988 after auditioning at a public tryout camp. He reached the major leagues in September 1992 and pitched in 43 games the next season before the club sent him and catcher Dan Wilson to Seattle in November 1993 for Bret Boone and Erik Hanson.
In five seasons with the Mariners, Ayala played a key bullpen role for a pair of division-winning teams, but also suffered terrible abuse at the hands of Mariners’ fans who held him accountable for the failings of the club’s frequently combustible relief corps. Armed with a slider, a low-90’s fastball and an often devastating forkball, Ayala won 10 games and saved 37 his first two years in the Pacific Northwest, but lost his closer’s job to southpaw Norm Charlton during the Mariners’ drive to the AL West title in 1995.
With his season off to a rough start in April 1996, Ayala spent almost two months on the disabled list when he punched his hand through a Chicago hotel room window. He briefly regained the closer’s job in 1997, when he won 10 games and saved eight in 96 2/3 innings, but had been relegated to a supporting role by the time the Mariners won their second AL West title that September.
Ayala endured a nigsource.htmare season in 1998, winning just once against 10 defeats, blowing 10 of 18 save chances and allowing 100 hits in 75 1/3 innings while posting a 7.29 ERA. Fans booed him so mercilessly whenever he pitched that Seattle management all but promised to dispose of the reliever whom manager Lou Piniella referred to as “a poster boy for our bullpen failures.”
Just two days before the start of the 1999 season, the Mariners traded Ayala to Montreal for marginal pitching prospect Jimmy Turman. Ayala admitted that he had felt “nervous in my stomach” about facing fan reaction in Seattle, but refused to take a parting shot, saying only, “I respect the fans. They paid for their ticket. They can boo or cheer, whatever they want to do.”
Ayala pitched effectively in 1999 (his 1-7 record belying a 3.51 ERA), but was cut by the Expos in September, reportedly for destroying a clock in the clubhouse after getting pulled from a game. The Cubs picked him up for the final month of the season, but did not re-sign him. After he failed to win a spot on Twins’ roster the next spring, Ayala pitched for the Cubs Triple-A Iowa affiliate until he was released in May.