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Leiter Is Angels’ Real Winner

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mark Leiter stood helplessly on the mound Saturday afternoon, his body trembling with emotion.

Leiter could think only of Ryan, wondering now if he should even be pitching. His 9-month-old son had died only five days earlier, and maybe his friends were right, he should take time to grieve.

“I almost felt guilty warming up,” Leiter said, “ ‘Is this too soon? What am I doing?’

“I kept thinking, ‘I wish to God Ryan was here.’ ”

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There was no one on the field Saturday who could comprehend the pain Leiter endured. Then again, perhaps no one could experience the same fulfillment in the Angels’ 6-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, either.

“I wanted to win today,” Leiter said, “more than I ever wanted to win in my life.”

Leiter, who struggled the first couple of innings with his emotions, left the game trailing 2-1 after six innings. The Brewers expanded the lead to 4-1 before the Angels tied it with three runs in the eighth, then scored two in the ninth on back-to-back, two-out singles by Jim Edmonds and Eduardo Perez.

Edmonds produced the game-winning hit, Mike Butcher got the victory and Joe Grahe the save, but the Angels said that there was no bigger hero than Leiter.

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“No one can possibly imagine what he went through out there today,” said Angel reliever Craig Lefferts, who has four kids of his own.

“When I went out there today, I prayed for peace for him. I just wanted God to give him peace to do what he had to do.”

Leiter’s wife, Allison, and their 3-year-old son, Mark Jr., were sitting in the stands. They traveled together to Milwaukee on Thursday night, not bearing to be apart.

“The last time were all together, we were at the ballpark Monday,” Allison said. “The four of us just went out and sat in the stands at Anaheim Stadium. No one else was around. It was so peaceful, so beautiful.

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“We know Ryan was here for a reason, and it was not to rip our family apart or make us miserable people. It was to bring us together. Ryan will always be with us.

“We have an angel watching over us now.”

Ryan died of Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, a children’s form of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The most difficult aspect of the day was not pitching to the Brewers, but knowing that to concentrate, he had to shut down the memories of Ryan.

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“I was kind of going through the motions the first couple of hitters,” Leiter said.

“I started getting upset at myself, telling myself, ‘You can’t let everybody down.’ I’ll be thinking about him my whole life, but I can’t be doing this on the mound.

“You have to go on, you have to focus on baseball.”

While Leiter’s mind was wandering Saturday, the memory of Friday evening provided the most comfort. He started to think of his son, Marky, who kept him awake most of the night with a stomachache.

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Leiter, worried, wasn’t able to fall asleep until 1:15, and Marky woke up at 3:50. Leiter stayed up and rubbed Marky’s stomach, finally falling asleep at 5:15.

“I thought, ‘Oh, this is great. Unbelievable. What else can go wrong. Throw it all at us. Dish it out, we’ll keep battling.’

“My wife and I just looked at each other, and started laughing. We thought, ‘Boy, if this was the biggest problem in life, it would be great.’ ”

Leiter allowed six baserunners the first two innings, but he retired the side in order in the third inning and prevented anyone from reaching third base again until Dave Nilsson’s wind-blown home run in the sixth. He wasn’t the winning pitcher, but the Angels said it was one of the greatest performances they ever witnessed.

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“What he did today was totally unbelievable,” Angel shortstop Gary DiSarcina said. “This will be a day that none of us will ever forget.”


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