PHOENIX — Baseball is amazing because a 22nd-round pick from the New Jersey Institute of Technology can stand 60 feet, 6 inches from one of the best hitters on the planet and need just one pitch to compete a night he would never forget. Mark Leiter Jr. threw Paul Goldschmidt a cutter in the sixth inning of Friday’s 6-1 Phillies win. Goldschmidt smacked it toward the right-field line.
The Diamondbacks offense, one of the best in baseball, tallied 26 runs in the previous two days. No team hits better at home than Arizona. Leiter, the son of a big-league pitcher, had never started a game in the majors. He was happy just to break camp in April with triple-A Lehigh Valley.
And, here stood Goldschmidt. He owned the highest on-base percentage in baseball. He had seen Leiter twice now, and the righthander’s diet of sinkers and cutters was evident. But he threw Goldschmidt a cutter that dotted the outside corner.
It produced a routine fly out.
Leiter shouted after his sixth scoreless inning. He smacked his hands together as he walked to the Phillies dugout. His dad, a veteran of 335 games in the majors, watched from the Chase Field stands. They shared a special night in Arizona.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” Leiter said. “I’ll be honest with you: I think I was probably more excited for this than I was for my major-league debut.”
The Phillies are 24 games under .500 with a leadership group that has stressed the bigger picture. This season is not about one night or six innings or a 26-year-old rookie from New Jersey, but Leiter commanded attention on Friday.
This game can operate in mysterious ways.
“He was outstanding,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “What a great pitching performance. He made it look easy.”
Leiter struck out five Arizona batters, all five on swings and misses at his cutter. He walked just one.
He started the sixth inning at 70 pitches. The top of Arizona’s lineup would see Leiter for the third time, a chance to do damage. Daniel Descalso bounced a first-pitch, 90-mph fastball to second base. One out. David Peralta tapped an 83-mph change-up back at Leiter. Two outs. Leiter jumped ahead of Goldschmidt with a slider and a fastball. He misfired a cutter and Goldschmidt took a fastball outside.
Leiter countered with the cutter. Three outs.
“For his first major-league start to come up here, and do that in what is known as a good hitters ballpark, that proves he’s pretty strong between the ears,” first baseman Tommy Joseph said. “He’s always been one of those under-the-radar guys that people doubted. But his mentality and the way he prepares is second to none.”
Leiter and his dad became the 15th father-son combination in baseball history to both make starts for the same club, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Mark Sr. hopped a flight once the family knew young Leiter would pitch.
“I think it was worth him coming out here,” Leiter said. “He’s probably happy.”
Leiter continued the upward trend in the Phillies’ rotation; the starters have recorded a quality start in each of the last six games, their longest streak this season. If not for the slapdash bullpen, the Phillies would have won more than two of those starts.
The relievers held Friday. Pat Neshek struck out the side and lowered his ERA to 0.61. Joaquin Benoit pitched into and out of a mess. The Phillies ripped the game open in the ninth inning with four runs, two of which came on a Joseph homer that landed in the outfield pool.
Those were footnotes because this was Leiter’s night. His teammates celebrated in the clubhouse 15 minutes after the last out. Leiter climbed into a laundry cart and Jeremy Hellickson wheeled him to the showers, where Leiter was doused with ketchup, barbecue sauce, beer and whatever else the Phillies could find in the kitchen. They all yelled. The Phillies had some fun.
“I tried to get in the shower as quick as possible,” Leiter said.
The challenge of Arizona’s lineup, he said, never entered his mind during the cross-country flight to his first major-league start. He just wanted to keep it close.
“I don’t think it necessarily matters who it is,” Leiter said. “They’re all big leaguers and they’ve all earned their right to be big leaguers.”
So has Leiter — who signed for a $1,000 bonus, never appeared on a prospect list, and pitched 440 innings in the minors before his break led him to the desert for his first major-league start and win.
Published at Sat, 24 Jun 2017 10:35:14 +0000