PHILADELPHIA — One batter into what would be the best game Tim Leary has ever pitched, an unusual substance was detected on the ball. The umpires came to the mound and inspected both the ball and Leary's right hand. A Dodger trainer did, too. Curious teammates circled like bystanders at the scene of a crime.
The substance found on the ball was . . . blood.
It turned out that Leary somehow had sustained a cut on the middle finger of his right hand, no bigger than if he had pricked himself with a needle. That appears to be an occupational hazard for a pitcher whose repertoire includes a split-finger off-speed pitch and a cut fastball.
Once the bleeding stopped, nothing could stop Leary from cutting down the Philadelphia Phillies en route to a one-hitter in the Dodgers' 4-0 win here Wednesday night before a crowd of 24,444 at Veterans Stadium.
It was Leary's second straight shutout and third of the season. The one-hitter--the lone hit being Darren Daulton's third-inning single--bettered Leary's three-hit shutout of the San Diego Padres last month.
Leary's pitching, combined with two-run home runs from Mike Scioscia and Jeff Hamilton off loser David Palmer, enabled the Dodgers (24-17) to climb into a virtual first-place tie with the Houston Astros in the National League West.
Leary has thrown 19 scoreless innings, has an 0.82 earned-run average over his last 33 innings and had gone 24 innings without walking a batter before issuing a walk to Milt Thompson, the first hitter he faced.
Right then, Leary knew something was not right.
So, he checked his finger and noticed a bead of blood. He had been unthinkingly wiping it on his pants leg during Thompson's at-bat. After being treated with "Tough-Skin," described by trainers as a liquid Band-Aid, Leary was too tough for Phillie hitters, who badly needed an offensive transfusion.
"You can't see (the cut) now but, when I grabbed the ball, I noticed a strange slickness," Leary said. "I must have scratched my finger with a pebble or something--the mound was a mess--or maybe I cut it on the seam (of the baseball.)
"I didn't really feel affected by it, but it was bleeding and distracting."
After that interruption, Leary dismissed Philadelphia with relative ease. He threw only 107 pitches, relying mostly on fastballs and occasionally mixing in a split-finger--his version of a change-up--and a cut fastball, which moves away from right-handed hitters and sinks.
Basically, though, Leary just kept rearing back and firing those 90-mile-per-hour fastballs. Leary (4-3) has had just one poor outing this season--a six-run shelling in two-thirds of an inning against St. Louis May 1. His 2.48 ERA is second only to Orel Hershiser (2.33) among Dodger starters.
"I moved the ball in and out good tonight," Leary said. "I kept the ball down, mostly. It was sinking for me, but it would move around, too. I didn't feel I threw as hard or as good as my last start (a seven-hit shutout of Montreal), but things just worked out."
Had it not been for Daulton's third-inning single, Leary would have no-hit the Phillies, who have a .225 team batting average. Daulton hit a hard groundball that Dodger first baseman Mike Marshall tried to backhand, but it skidded beyond his reach and into right field.
Daulton advanced to second after Steve Jeltz walked, but Leary started a double play after fielding a bunt by Palmer, throwing out Daulton at third to start it.
Third base was unexplored territory for Phillies' baserunners on this night. Leary issued only two walks, but the Phillies also had two baserunners because of fielding errors by Hamilton at third base and Dave Anderson at shortstop.
"Leary was dominating tonight," Scioscia said. "You aren't going to lose many games when a guy's throwing like that. His location was in the strike zone. When a guy is throwing that hard and has location, it works. His cut fastball was effective, and the split-finger was working when he decided to use it. His pitches were moving real well."
The difference between Leary this season and last is startling. After coming to the Dodgers from Milwaukee in the Greg Brock trade, Leary lost his spot in the starting rotation during spring training and never adapted to the role as a long reliever.
But pitching in the Mexican winter league at Tijuana improved Leary's arm strength, honed his split-finger pitch and bolstered his confidence.
"I'm pitching better than any time in my life," said Leary, who had two four-hitters as a Brewer. "There's no comparison between this year and last year. . . . As long as my arm feels strong, it's just a matter of not making a stupid pitch. When you get a lead like tonight, that's a bonus. That helps your confidence."