CINCINNATI -- It took 16 games into the season for the Reds' rotation to finally notch its first victory. Fittingly, the pitcher who earned it has been the one who's performed the best overall thus far. That just happens to be mild-mannered rookie Mike Leake, who earned his first big league win on Thursday when the Reds defeated the Dodgers, 8-5, and took two of three in the series. It was a big one to get for Cincinnati, which had lost six of seven coming into the night. Over seven innings against the Major Leagues' leader in team batting, Leake gave up five earned runs and eight hits with one walk and five strikeouts.
"Mike Leake gave us everything we could ask for," said manager Dusty Baker, who gave his pitcher a signed lineup card as a memento after the game. Inside Cincinnati's clubhouse, Leake was given a less sentimental gift for his first victory. "It was a nice little beer shower," said Leake, the eighth overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, who skipped the Minors and debuted in the Majors on April 11. The bigger and better gift for Leake came in the bottom of the seventh inning after he had given up Garret Anderson's two-run home run in the top half to fall into a 5-4 deficit. The Reds sent nine to the plate to get the runs back for Leake, and then some, all with two outs. On a first pitch from reliever Ronald Belisario, Scott Rolen drove a two-run double off of the left-center-field wall, just out of reach of Matt Kemp. After Jay Bruce's intentional walk, Drew Stubbs' single through the right side scored Rolen. A seeing-eye single through the hole on the left side by Ryan Hanigan scored Bruce and gave Cincinnati a three-run lead and Leake a shot at a winning decision. "It's a dangerous team over there," Baker said. "We needed some add-on insurance runs and got some big ones." Arthur Rhodes held it with a 1-2-3 eighth and Francisco Cordero took care of the ninth for his sixth save. At 7-9 this season, it was the first time the Reds won a game before their final at-bat. Cincinnati's rotation, which was the last to be winless in the Majors, came into the night with an 8.08 ERA over its previous nine games. The only strong starts it's gotten in nearly two weeks have come from Leake. Since April 11, the right-hander is the only pitcher to work seven innings -- which he's done twice. He's also the only guy on the staff with two quality starts. "I just hope we all get on track," Leake said. "Hopefully we'll get hot and just roll from here. We have a great pitching staff." Leake also demonstrated much better control than his first two outings, which yielded a combined 12 walks. "I just told myself, 'If you're going to walk this team, you're going to pay for it,'" Leake said. "'You have to go after these guys.'" In the Dodgers' first inning, Leake fell into a 2-0 deficit when Andre Ethier lifted a changeup for what appeared to be routine fly ball. But it carried just over the right-field fence for a two-run home run. Someone who rarely seems affected by anything, Leake refused to let the long ball bother him. "The key on that is coming back and not letting your team down," Leake said. "Continue to get outs. You can't dwell on that or otherwise it will be a rolling-back effect." A sinkerball pitcher, Leake otherwise kept the ball on the ground most of the time -- with 13 of his 20 coming via groundouts. There were several nice defensive pickups, including Chris Dickerson's running over-the-shoulder catch on Rafael Furcal's drive to left field in the third and second baseman Brandon Phillips' diving stop of Vicente Padilla's grounder in the fifth. Leake also worked quickly and helped notch the only sub-three-hour game of the series at two hours, 47 minutes. "He goes out there and wants to be out there. You can see that right away," Rolen said. "I was talking to [Dodgers coach] Larry Bowa at third base at the beginning of the game. Leake threw about three pitches and [Bowa] says, 'I like this kid. He gets the ball and throws it.' Which is true. He gets the ball and he's throwing it. He keeps the defense right there. He keeps you in the game. It's good to go out there behind him." In the fifth, Leake hustled on a sacrifice-bunt situation and reached on Padilla's throwing error that later set up a run to score. The Reds were trailing by a 3-2 score in the sixth until Bruce launched Padilla's slow eephus pitch into the right-field bullpen for a two-run homer. In the top of the seventh, Leake made two mistakes that cost him. A fastball up to Russell Martin was hit for a one-out lined single to center field before Anderson homered on a 1-1 fastball to give the Dodgers the lead. Cincinnati's offense, which scored 23 runs and notched 30 hits in the series, picked up Leake. If he was pumped up by the comeback win, he kept it layers below the surface.
"Not a lot gets to me. I'm excited, definitely," Leake said. "I might not show it too much."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.