The Florida Marlins were in town to play the Mets and Leiter was in the strange position of reporting to the visitor's clubhouse. The Mets chose not to pick up the $10 million option on his contract in the off-season and signed another pitcher instead. That other pitcher, Pedro Martinez, was his opponent and they both drew 55,351 fans to Flushing, the largest Saturday crowd in club history."It's odd (being here)," Leiter said. "I'm always nervous before games, but this one was a little different. Today, I think I was over thinking the situation a little bit. After the first inning, I felt myself settle down a little. These weren't normal jitters though, because of the time I had spent here. You have other thoughts. You have fans who root for the markers and logos of other teams, and I understand that (fans were booing)."In his seven seasons with the Mets, Leiter reached a World Series in 2000 and was so popular within the organization he became a sort of liaison between the players and management. He was a Mets fan growing up in Toms River, N.J. and was often seen in public with local politicians.The Mets rallied in the bottom of the ninth to win 4-3 on a single by Ramon Castro, who was let go by the Marlins at the end of last season and is Mike Piazza's understudy at catcher. Martinez, making his first start at Shea Stadium since igniting the Mets six-game winning streak, was strong in seven innings of work - as was Leiter - who gave up one run in seven innings and left with a no-decision in the loss. During the Mets' courtship of Carlos Delgado last summer, Leiter was rumored to have bad-mouthed his former team in an attempt to get Delgado to sign with Florida. After the game he talked about his history with the Mets and denied the report that he had trashed the organization and played down the boos that greeted him when he was announced."I've embraced this city more than anybody," he said. "I wasn't stupid enough to say anything to Carlos Delgado, who at the time, I thought was going to be a Met. It's just not true."In the fickle New York sports scene, where popularity is defined by wins and losses, the Mets have replaced the Yankees as the darlings of the city. Given the monopoly of good-will the Yankees have built up, that was probably unthinkable before the season began, but with the Yankees recent implosion, they have lost eight of their last 10 games, the Mets are the only story everyone cares about and the clash between Leiter and Martinez was the type of game fans could get their hands around.Led by the comically eccentric Martinez, the Mets are a collection of cast-offs in the same mold as the Red Sox were last year, with young players climbing the latter of greatness, veterans looking to turn back the clock and all of them orbiting around the axis of Carlos Beltran, the only certifiable All-Star in the lineup. With this latest win, one can almost see Mets manager Willie Randolph loosening the tie of discomfort that was around his neck after the Mets began the season on such a sour note."I expect this type of performance from Pedro," Randolph said.Reach reporter Mitch Abramson by E-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 130.
©2005 Community News Group
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