05/01/2002 02:26 am ET
Thirty down for Mets' Leiter
Lefty becomes first to beat all 30 teams
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- The odds didn't favor Mets pitcher Al Leiter.
Defending World Series champion Arizona was the only Major League club he hadn't defeated in his remarkable 12-year career, and here he was Tuesday night facing the Diamondbacks on their home grass.
The 36-year-old left-hander was 0-3 overall against them with a 5.40 ERA, and at Bank One Ballpark owned a 0-2 record and 8.71 ERA.
Making matters worse, while warming up in the dry desert air Tuesday night the baseball seemed like a cueball -- seamless, smooth, without that tactile give -- and he knew that helium-like atmosphere could mean trouble.
Surprisingly, Leiter beat all the odds, becoming the first pitcher to defeat all 30 clubs with a dominant seven innings of three-hit ball in New York's 10-1 victory.
"I absolutely had to work hard," said Leiter (3-1), backed by a 16-hit Mets attack that scored 10 runs in the first three innings and rocked loser Rick Helling (3-3), boosting New York's winning streak to five games.
"Even from my warmups I didn't feel that comfortable. It was really strange about the air here. It was very similar to Colorado and difficult to get a sweat. The fact that we had the earlier lead made it easier for me to settle down, though."
Leiter's only problems came in the third, when Craig Counsell lofted a fly to left which was dropped by Roger Cedeno. Then Leiter hit Helling with a pitch and did the same with Tony Womack. Leiter had trouble fielding a Junior Spivey grounder to the mound and the lone Arizona run scored.
More trouble loomed. With the bases loaded, Luis Gonzalez lined a hard shot to second baseman Roberto Alomar, but he turned a double play and might have staved off a big inning.
Leiter explained he felt out of rhythm, out of tempo. But he soon gained control and cruised, conscious of not letting down and grooving his pitches, keeping that big lead safe.
He was also fully conscious of never having beaten the Diamondbacks, whom he shut down on off-speed sliders, curves and fastballs.
"I believe this is the only stadium where I have not won in the Major Leagues," said the pitcher. "I was joking with the guys. 'Give me 10 [runs] and I think I can win this one.'"
And the last team fell.
Don't forget about Mike Piazza, who had missed the last five games with a strained left hamstring.
After taking extra batting practice and wrapping his left hamstring tight, the slugger said he felt comfortable and not anxious, despite the layoff. He was fortunate, too, that Helling was way off form, and Piazza made the D-Backs pitcher pay.
Piazza merely slammed two home runs, kicking off the scoring with a three-run, first-inning blast, and drove in six runs.
"Coming out early was the key," Piazza said. "Usually you have too much adrenaline coming back, but I took a lot of extra swings. I ran hard early, too, and my hamstring feels pretty good. I'll need to continue to treat it and wear the wrap a few weeks."
A test of that hamstring occurred in the third inning after teammate Joe McEwing socked a two-run homer off Helling and then loaded the bases. Piazza hit a hot grounder to first baseman Mark Grace and ran full-bore to the bag, barely losing the race as Grace tossed to Helling.
"You just try to beat the throw -- you don't even think about being cautious," Piazza said. "But that's me. I was trying to get a hit there."
The hamstring held.
For Mets manager Bobby Valentine, having Piazza back seems a lifesaver, although the Mets apparently didn't miss him by winning four straight games and five of their last six contests without him. Wrong thinking, says Valentine.
"I thought we played real well when Mike wasn't in there," he said, "but if anyone is disillusioned enough to think we're as good a team without him in there, their medication is coming their way. We're a much better team with Mike. The good ones like him, with the spotlights on them, rise to the occasion."
The Mets were to face Diamondbacks ace Randy Johnson (6-0) Wednesday night at Bank One Ballpark, but the left-hander was scratched due to a lower back strain. He'll be replaced by Todd Stottlemyre (0-1), opposing New York's Steve Trachsel (1-3).
Rich Draper covers the Diamondbacks for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.