SAN FRANCISCO — By the time Will Clark stepped up to bat Wednesday afternoon in the ninth inning with two out, the bases loaded and the Giants trailing, 7-5, Padre pitcher Dave Leiper was sitting in the dugout, helpless.
An inning earlier, Leiper had gotten Clark to line out to shortstop Dickie Thon, the only at-bat all afternoon in which Clark didn't get a hit.
This time, Clark, who finished 4 for 5 with 7 runs batted in, worked a full count against Mark Davis before he rocketed a double into right field, sending all three runners home and the Padres to Atlanta without a three-game road sweep, something they had a chance to do for the first time in two years.
Of course, Leiper, a left-hander, wasn't expected to be on the field in the ninth, because when relief beckons in those situations, Davis and Lance McCullers get the call.
But for the first time all year, Leiper, the Padres' nearly forgotten man, entered the game in a pressure situation. He came in to start the seventh with the Padres ahead, 5-4. He left for a pinch-hitter after he pitched two perfect innings.
"Finishing the game is not my role--I was supposed to face those left-handers in the middle of the lineup," Leiper said quietly in a subdued Padre clubhouse.
Leiper retired pinch-hitter Joel Youngblood, center fielder Brett Butler and pinch-hitter Chris Speier in the seventh, all on ground balls, and then got the meat of the Giant order in the eighth--Clark, Candy Maldonado and Mike Aldrete.
The left-handers he disposed of were Clark, who hit his 17th home run of the year in the fifth inning, and Aldrete, who was batting .303 entering the game. Leiper left when Manager Jack McKeon sent Chris Brown to the plate in the top of the ninth to bat for him.
"Leip did a good job for two innings, but that's his job--to hold them for Davis and McCullers," McKeon said. "We were really only planning on using him for one inning, but he was throwing well, so we let him go two."
Said Leiper: "I could have pitched the ninth, but I didn't expect to go back out there. That's not my role--that's for Mark and Lance."
Davis, with 12 saves, and McCullers, with 6, have combined for all 18 Padre saves and have had their share of attention this summer, but Leiper has been quietly building an impressive earned-run average. After Wednesday's outing, it's a team-low 1.88.
Still, it has been a rough year for Leiper, who came to San Diego along with Rob Nelson from Oakland last Aug. 31 in exchange for Storm Davis. He has pitched only 19 innings--by far the fewest on the staff. But that's mainly because a strained ligament in his left elbow hasn't allowed Leiper to wander far from the disabled list.
He started the season on the disabled list and was activated on April 17, but he went down after he appeared in just four games. He stayed on the disabled list this time from May 3-22. Both times, it was the elbow.
"I'm still trying to prove myself to the team, to the people of San Diego and to myself," Leiper said. "I had a good first half last year, then regressed a little, but now I'm pitching well again."
At Oakland last year, his ERA was 2.10 on July 21, but by the time of the trade a month later, it had ballooned to 3.78.
Now, for the first time all year, he's pitching pain-free and throwing well. He's also bidding to finish the season without spending time in the minors, something the 26-year-old has yet to accomplish in his six-year professional career.