04/11/10 5:55 PM EST
Leake makes the leap as Reds win
No victory for rookie, but two-run eighth decides finale
By Jeff Wallner / Special to MLB.com
Just three batters into his first career start against the Cubs on Sunday afternoon, Leake's laid-back Southern California demeanor was put to the test: bases loaded, no outs and Aramis Ramirez at the plate.
Leake, who'd just become only the 21st player since the Draft's inception in 1965 to debut without appearing in a Minor League game, maintained his composure during the Reds' 3-1 win.
Popup. Strikeout. Flyout. Inning over.
"It was a bad situation to put myself in," said the 22-year-old Leake. "I just had to take a breath and get myself out of it. I tried to battle the whole game."
The Reds helped Leake earn a no-decision by rallying late before 26,945 fans at Great American Ball Park.
Leake, for the most part, cruised through his 6 2/3 innings, allowing just one earned run on four hits while striking out five.
Leake's only disconcerting statistic was particularly glaring -- seven walks.
"I've never issued that many walks, ever," he said. "I was pulling the ball today, mainly fastballs, just trying to overthrow. I should've got the ball from my seventh walk [as a souvenir]."
Some wondered how Leake, who was drafted eighth overall in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Arizona State University, would handle making a quantum leap to the Major Leagues.
It didn't start well for the young man.
Leake began the game by walking Ryan Theriot on five pitches. Kosuke Fukudome doubled off Drew Stubbs' glove in center, then Derrek Lee walked to load the bases.
"It started rough, but he knows how to pitch out of trouble," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "He usually doesn't walk people. There's more in there, big time. Today was huge for his confidence."
Leake twice was visited at the mound in the first inning, once each by Baker and catcher Ramon Hernandez.
"I don't remember what was said," said Leake. "Whatever it was, it worked."
Leake escaped the jam and jogged off the mound to a standing ovation and a chorus of cheers from around 20 friends and family members seated behind home plate.
"We had him on the ropes [in the first]," Lee said. "Bases loaded, no outs. Most of the time, we're going to score. Give him credit, he didn't fold."
Leake found himself in another jam in the third with runners on first and second and no outs. But he fanned Lee and Ramirez in succession, then retired Marlon Byrd on a routine grounder.
"He was trying to be a bit too perfect," said Hernandez. "He's very competitive. He has a good idea of what he wants to do out there. That's very impressive for 22. Next time out, he should be even better."
Leake, the hitter, was impressive, too.
He collected his first big league hit on Sunday in his first career plate appearance, a one-out single to center in the third.
Matt Maloney was the last Reds pitcher to record a hit in his first career at-bat, singling off Ryan Dempster on June 6, 2009. The last position player to accomplish the feat was Ryan Hanigan, who singled off Ben Sheets on Sept. 9, 2007.
"I was almost more excited to hit today than pitch," Leake said.
Leake added a single to right in the sixth to become the first Reds pitcher to produce two hits in his Major League debut since Benny Frey on Sept. 18, 1929, vs. Philadelphia.
Leake allowed the game's first run in the fifth, when Lee's RBI single scored Theriot from second to put the Cubs ahead, 1-0.
After issuing consecutive walks to Lee and Ramirez with two outs in the seventh, Leake was removed from the game to a rousing ovation.
"It was great," said Leake. "It was nice to hear it from the fans today. We had great fan support."
His counterpart, Tom Gorzelanny, allowed just one unearned run in 6 1/3 innings, but the Reds rallied against the Cubs' bullpen.
Miguel Cairo's infield single off reliever Sean Marshall with the bases loaded tied the score at 1 in the seventh. That run wouldn't have been possible if Alfonso Soriano didn't drop Jonny Gomes' fly ball in left field for the second out of the inning.
Esmailin Caridad issued a bases-loaded walk to Hernandez in the eighth to produce the go-ahead run. Gomes followed with a sacrifice fly to make the score 3-1.
Francisco Cordero pitched a scoreless ninth for his second save.
"He knew what he was doing," said Lee of Leake. "He had a lot of different pitches. He competed. He didn't seem intimidated out there. He kept us off balance."
Jeff Wallner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.