There were two great storylines in the Phillies' 8-0 win over the Miami Marlins on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).
One of them was Rhys Hoskins. The hard-hitting rookie drove in five runs with a three-run homer and a two-run double. The homer, 445 feet into the second deck in left, was his seventh, all in the last 10 games. This game is obsessed with power and if the 24-year-old from Sacramento keeps this up, this town will soon be obsessed with him.
But as compelling as Hoskins' performance was in this game, it might have ranked second best on the night, especially when you look at it this way: Hoskins has been a top Phillies prospects for a couple of years now. He hit 38 homers in Double A last year and 29 more in Triple A before coming up earlier this month. He averaged 99 RBIs over his first three full minor-league seasons. People were eagerly awaiting his arrival and his early results in the major leagues aren't a complete surprise.
That brings us to the other great storyline in Wednesday's win. The top storyline.
Mark Leiter Jr. does not have Hoskins' minor-league credentials. He never made one of those top-10 prospects lists or was considered for the Futures Game. Heck, he didn't even get an invite to big-league spring training camp this year. He was a 22nd-round draft pick out of that baseball powerhouse known as the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He was an underdog, just a kid looking for a chance, from the moment he signed.
But in addition to being an underdog, he's a grinder, a determined bulldog who exudes Jersey toughness, pitching savvy and a full menu of pitches that he knows how to execute.
"Every day you come in and try to prove yourself," Leiter said. "You've got to believe in yourself, and when you get opportunities you have to try to do your best."
Leiter was the story of Wednesday night's win because of what happened on Tuesday. The Phillies were swept by the Marlins in a doubleheader. Phillies pitching gave up 27 hits and 19 runs in the doubleheader and the bullpen had to pick up 7 2/3 innings in the nightcap.
So Leiter had to be really good against a lineup that featured three big bats in Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. And he had to stick around a while to help a beat-up bullpen.
He succeeded on all fronts, pitching seven innings of shutout ball and giving up just one hit.
"I don’t know who my favorite player is, either Leiter or Hoskins right now," a pleased manager Pete Mackanin said after the win. "I’m trying to make a decision on that. Right now they’re about tied.
"Mark saved the bullpen. It was a sorely needed outing."
Leiter's dad, Mark Sr., pitched for the Phillies in 1997 and 1998.
After Wednesday's game, the younger Leiter checked his phone.
"Great job," was the text message from his dad.
Leiter opened the game with five no-hit innings. He struck out five in the first two innings. He got big run support thanks to a five-run third inning when the Phils hit for the cycle and Hoskins clubbed a three-run homer after actually asking Mackanin if he should simply try to move the runners. Mackanin laughed and told Hoskins, "We're paying you to drive in runs." Hoskins obliged.
"Rhys is a great hitter having a great year," Leiter said. "It's fun to see him come up and having that success and contribute to us scoring a lot of runs."
Leiter watched from the dugout as the Marlins lit up Aaron Nola and Nick Pivetta on Tuesday. That did not create any anxiety in the 26-year-old right-hander. The guy doesn't get rattled.
"I just tried to command the strike zone and get ahead early," he said. "They have a great lineup over there. The key is getting ahead and keeping guys off balance as much as you can. It's the big leagues so you have to be good every time. Every lineup can hurt you. You have to execute.
"The most important thing was going deep into the game and giving the guys in the bullpen a blow. You can't go out there and chase strikeouts. You have to try to say within yourself and get outs."
Leiter retired Stanton — owner of a majors-best 46 homers — three times.
"He's locked in," Leiter said. "You know he's in the lineup. You have to try to make sure no one is on base when he comes up and then keep him off balance. He's having a special season, and as a fan of baseball it's fun to watch. I don't want to see me on too many of those highlights, but he's having a great year. He's got a chance at 60 or 61 homers. It hasn’t been done in a long time."
Leiter's role remains undefined. Basically, he is a swingman, someone who can pitch as a long reliever or make spot starts, like this one. Those guys are valuable to clubs.
Either way, Leiter has put himself on the map this season. Not bad for a guy who was so far off the radar that he didn't even get an invite to big-league camp in the spring.
"He's made a great impression," Mackanin said.