On a night already given historical significance by the celebration of Jackie Robinson’s major league debut on that date in 1947, Leiter made a bid to make the night even more memorable by taking a no-hitter into the fourth inning.
However, with Leiter’s pitch count climbing, it was hard to seriously entertain the notion, and on cue Eli Marrero singled leading off the inning. For his part, Leiter – in a familiar refrain heard last season – was unapologetic about working deliberately and needing 104 pitches to retire 16 batters.
"I don’t throw 95 (MPH) so every pitch has a consequence," Leiter said. "If I’m going to throw a cutter in on Chipper Jones’ hands, I’m going to make sure it’s in on Chipper Jones’ hands."
The lost no-no and high pitch count didn’t detract from Leiter’s strong effort. He limited Atlanta to just three hits, while relievers David Weathers, Orber Moreno and Braden Looper held the fort and handcuffed Atlanta to just one safety the rest of the way.
Leiter has still not allowed a run in 10-1/3 innings of work this season, and holds a 24-1/3 inning scoreless streak that dates back to last Sept. 17 against the Cubs.
"When you’re a bullpen guy and you see a starter battle like Al, that’s pressure. This guy just laid it out there," said Weathers, who uncharacteristically celebrated after inducing Julio Franco to bounce into an inning-ending double play in the sixth.
On a strange night when
Leiter – an .027 hitter last season -- ripped a double, Art Howe’s most glowing praise was reserved for Shane Spencer’s RBI groundout in the first inning.
After Kaz Matsui walked and Ricky Gutierrez moved him to third with a two-base hit, Spencer hit the ball to the right side of the infield, scoring the run to give Leiter an early 1-0 lead.
"It’s really important to give your pitchers something to work with so they’re not trying to make perfect pitches," Howe said.
"That’s textbook baseball. That’s prettier than a home run."
Even stranger, Spencer barely batted an eyebrow when told that Howe considered his groundout a more attractive play than a deep fly. Sure, you’ll take that run anytime, but wouldn’t you rather have the three-run bomb?
"It’s good execution," Spencer said. "I know that if I was hitting behind me, I’d be happy. It makes the game fun when you can do things like that."
The dugout was chirping
a bit after Leiter doubled to deep right-center off of Horacio Ramirez in the fifth, chugging and high-stepping into second base. The lefthander tried his best to conceal a grin later that night.
"Obviously, I was lucky because I’m not supposed to make contact," he said. "You get lucky once in a while."
Leiter paused before smiling: "Very, very lucky."
Art Howe limited Mike Cameron
to one pinch-hit appearance after Cameron revealed he was feeling some tightness in his right hamstring. With a chilly night and swirling winds on tap as par for the course at Shea, Cameron was a late scratch from the lineup and Jeff Duncan started in center field.
"We can’t afford another hamstring with Mike," said Howe, who’s already without Cliff Floyd and Jose Reyes. "He wasn’t going to be in the outfield tonight. Hopefully we nipped something in the bud."