2002-06-08 / Sports

Leit’s Out? Not Quite

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch
Leit’s Out? Not Quite By Bryan Hoch Baseball Columnist

Baseball Columnist

When New York Mets lefthander Al Leiter records a strikeout at Shea Stadium, the right field matrix board displays a goofy caricature of Leiter turning off a light bulb with the text, "Leit's Out."

Were it an actual light bulb, the energy bill would be running exceptionally high right about now, as Leiter lost for the third straight time when the Florida Marlins topped him earlier this week. Leiter failed to make it out of the fifth inning in his start in Miami on Sunday, being battered for seven runs on nine hits by the team that he led to a World Championship in 1997.

Leiter’s delivery may have been partially thrown out of whack by his accommodation of Florida’s running game, which thoroughly embarrassed him and catcher Mike Piazza two weeks ago at Shea Stadium when they were a perfect 6-for-6 in attempted steals against the lefty.

Under former Mets manager Jeff Torborg, the Marlins have been running wild this season, leading the National League in steals in an attempt to compensate for a high number of strikeouts in their batting order.

Consistently ranking among the league leaders in ERA during the first two months of the season and posting an obscene 0.92 ERA after six starts on April 30, Leiter was 0-3 with a 9.82 ERA in his last three starts entering his scheduled outing Friday at Cleveland.

"It’s the greatest game in the world when things are going good, and the worst when I’m the way I am now," Leiter said in a radio interview from Atlanta on Tuesday. "But I’ll break out, I’ll get past this. I always do."

Coincidentally, Leiter’s trouble on the mound began almost at the exact time that rumors of a pending two-year, $18 million contract extension for the 36-year-old southpaw have made the rounds.

The Mets don’t often discuss upcoming contracts during the regular season – they even held off negotiating with free agent-to-be Mike Piazza in 1998 until October – but are making an exception with Leiter, whose youthful exuberance on the mound still displaces any mileage he has racked up on the pitching odometer.

                       *****

With their first round selection in Tuesday’s amateur draft, the Mets selected lefthanded pitcher Scott Kazmir from Cypress Falls High School in Texas. Boasting a fastball that consistently hit 94-96 MPH his senior year to complement a devastating slider-curve, Kazmir was ranked as one of the best pitchers available in the draft.

Kazmir, 18, was 11-2 with a 0.37 ERA and one save in 14 games for Cypress Falls this season, leading his team to the Texas District 16-5A championship as he earned All-State and District MVP honors. Baseball America named him as the high school player closest to the majors and as having the third-best fastball among all prep players in the United States.

"It's the steal of the draft," Cypress Falls Head Coach Brent McDonald said. "I'm telling you that the Mets got the best player in the United States. He has such a free and easy motion and the ball just takes off. He just lets it fly and there's no stress and not a lot of extra motion put into his throw. He's a natural."

Some project that Kazmir could someday be a dominating closer out of the mold of his hero, Houston Astros flame-thrower Billy Wagner.

Unfortunately, it seems that nearly every stud pitcher that has come up through the Mets’ farm system in the

last ten years has either fizzled or gone on to find stardom elsewhere. I don't think that anyone wishes to recount the depressing individual tales of the "Generation K" pitchers -- Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson.

                    *****

Fans in Red Sox nation have reason to be concerned after Monday’s outing from star righthander Pedro Martinez, in which Martinez allowed four runs to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park in an eventual 6-5 Boston loss.

The effort included surrendering back-to-back home runs on three pitches to Ramon Santiago and Damion Easley to start the game, as Martinez was clocked at just 84 MPH in the first inning. That raised eyebrows up and down Boston’s bench, as bench coach Felipe Alou remarked that was the least he’d ever seen Martinez have in all his years of watching the righthander pitcher.

Clinging to a precious lead over the Yankees in the American League East, the Red Sox desperately need Pedro to be his normal dominating self this summer. Martinez was limited to just 18 starts last season with a minor tear in his right rotator cuff.

                       *****

Off to their worst start in two decades, the Toronto Blue Jays issued a pink slip to manager Buck Martinez this week, citing his lack of experience as the reason for his dismissal. Martinez left the broadcast booth last season to take command of the Jays, having never managed at any level in professional baseball.

Since we questioned the Blue Jays’ trade of Shawn Green to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Raul Mondesi last week, it’s only natural to say – in hindsight, what the heck last year was Toronto GM Gord Ash thinking when he hired Martinez last season?

Larry Dierker was blessed with exceptional talent when he left the booth to take command of the Houston Astros; a team that is destined to perennially play in the shadow of the Yankees like the Blue Jays are needs a true leader. I don’t see teams banging down doors to offer managing jobs to Steve Lyons and Tim McCarver.

                       *****

Bryan Hoch regularly covers the New York Mets for MetsOnline.net. He may be contacted via e-mail at bryanhoch@metsonline.net.


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