SAN DIEGO — It was only the second inning Sunday when the Padre bullpen phone rang. Bullpen coach Denny Sommers picked it up, nodded to No. 52 sitting alongside him, and said, "It's you, babe."
Dave Leiper felt every muscle in his body tighten. He tried to swallow, but his throat was too dry. Instead, he took a deep breath, just trying to calm himself.
This would be just be one of 161 professional games that Leiper has pitched in his eight-year career, and with the Dodgers already up by five runs on their way to a 10-1 victory, this hardly could be perceived as a critical situation.
But Leiper, 27, considered it the game of his life.
It was back in November, as Leiper watched TV at his Scottsdale, Ariz., home, that he felt a funny pain in his chest. He thought little of it, and decided to go to bed early. He awoke in the middle of the night, wondering if he'd make it to morning.
He was rushed to a hospital, where doctors informed him he had suffered a heart attack. The Padres and Leiper now call it heart spasms, but whatever the proper definition, it was enough to keep Leiper hospitalized for nearly a week.
Doctors couldn't tell Leiper exactly why it happened, but because several checkups revealed no further trouble, Leiper felt there was no need to worry.
He went through spring training and the first 2 1/2 months of this season, and the only physical ailment he endured was a strained right elbow, which required a stint on the disabled list and a 20-day rehabilitation assignment with the Padres' triple-A club in Las Vegas.
Just one day after returning from Las Vegas, Leiper was called on to pitch an inning against Pittsburgh. He retired three of the four batters he faced, but something did not feel quite right when he was on the mound.
His pulse was racing, he was short of breath, and he felt a little light-headed. It was probably nerves, he thought.
No need to panic. So he just kept it to himself.
Three days later, pitching in the fifth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals, Leiper found himself bending over on the mound, fighting to catch his breath. He got two outs, but could go no further. He summoned the dugout for help, and was whisked into the trainer's room. They found his pulse rate alarmingly rapid.
When the Padres went to Cincinnati, Leiper stayed back and underwent extensive testing at the Scripps Clinic. He had so many wires attached to his body that he must have thought he was a walking electronics store.
After a three-hour test Wednesday, during which he was heavily sedated, he was given medication for his heart condition. One pill in the morning and one in the evening before bed were the instructions.
"Everything's been going through my mind these past few days," Leiper said. "I wondered what was going to happen when I went back out there. I wondered if maybe my career was over. I wondered what I'd do if I couldn't pitch again.
"So when I got that call to go in today, I felt a nervousness I've never experienced. I really didn't know what was going to happen.
"I tried to block it out of my mind, but really, how was I going to do that?"
With all that to consider while simultaneously trying to throw a baseball past major league hitters, it was not surprising that the Dodgers welcomed back Leiper by getting three straight hits, including a home run into the right-field seats by Franklin Stubbs.
It was like a good news-bad news joke. The good news, Leiper said, was that he was breathing fine, believing that everything would be all right, after all. The bad news was that he wasn't going to be around much longer anyway if he didn't start pitching better.
Leiper finally got Mike Scioscia to line out to first baseman Jack Clark for the first out, and after that, everything went quite smoothly. He didn't allow another run in three innings, and finished with a pitching line of three innings, five hits, two runs, and one walk.
Hardly impressive numbers, but forgive Leiper for feeling as if he had just received a new lease on life.
"I know I'm sounding selfish by saying this," Leiper said, "but I'm the happiest guy in here. I really had a lot of doubts, and a lot of questions whether this medication would work. Who knew what was going to happen?
"I'm not happy with the way I pitched, but considering the way I feel right now, it couldn't have gone better."
Unfortunately for the Padres, there was no one else who could relate to Leiper's sense of satisfaction.
The Dodgers teed off on starter Ed Whitson, scoring five runs to knock him out of the game after two innings. The Dodgers finished the game with 15 hits and 10 runs, equaling their season high.
The Dodgers scored all five of the runs off Whitson--two in the first inning and three in the second--with no one on, and two outs.
In the first inning, Eddie Murray hit a two-run home, the first of two he hit in the game. In the second inning, Lenny Harris drove in two runs with a double, one of three he hit in the game.