CINCINNATI — The whole matter was just so bizarre, a 23-year-old major-league pitcher, with $250 and credit cards in his wallet, arrested on a misdemeanor shoplifting charge at a Macy's Department Store for allegedly trying to steal six T-shirts worth a grand total of $59.88.
Mike Leake received a $2.3 million bonus when he signed with the Cincinnati Reds out of Arizona State. He will make $425,000 this year.
It made no sense.
Thursday afternoon, however, when Leake stood on the mound at Great American Ball Park, that part made perfect sense.
"He was probably more comfortable standing on that thing out there than he was standing in this locker room the last couple of days," said his teammate, Bronson Arroyo.
And indeed, Leake looked comfortable enough, throwing seven innings of four-hit, three-run baseball to help his slumping team to a much-needed 7-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"Uplift myself," said Leake afterward, "and hopefully uplift some other people."
There were no post-game questions directed at Leake about the pending case. The Reds saw to that, spokesman Rob Butcher stressing to the media assembled around the right-hander's locker that any inquiries about the specifics of the shoplifting matter would cause the interview to cease. None was asked.
But others talked about it, if indirectly, if only about the strange situation, about how it might affect Leake on the field and off.
"What your gauge is and what is are two different things," said Manager Dusty Baker. "Usually, you can look into a person's eyes and read that person at that moment. His eyes were gentle eyes ...his eyes were gentle to the point of pain and embarrassment."
The whole story hasn't been told. There are reports Leake has asked to enter a diversion program to have the charge expunged from his record. To do that, he must admit guilt. But WLWT-TV in Cincinnati reported that Leake was actually trying to exchange previously purchased items, that the whole thing was a mix-up.
"I'll be better once it's all done," Leake said Thursday. "Right now, I've just got to eat it and just go out there and do what I can for the team."
He did that Thursday, the best way he knows how.
"It was nice to go out there and be able to erase some things," Leake said of his time on the mound. "Go out there and pitch and let some things go."
The Reds needed to let this homestand go. They had lost four straight and six of their previous seven, dropping to 9-9 after Wednesday night's loss to Arizona. Even with Thursday's win, the defending NL Central champs went 2-5 against the visiting Pirates and Diamondbacks, teams expected to bring up the bottom of their divisions.
Now comes a road trip to St. Louis and then Milwaukee, the teams expected to be Cincinnati's main division competition.
"The Cardinals and Brewers always give us fits, and I think the Brewers are better than they've been," Arroyo said. "Hopefully, we can get back on track and take two of three from those guys."
On this day, though, Leake was the one who needed to get back on track.
"Mike has always been a guy who's been able to keep his emotions in check and focus on the task at hand," said Arroyo, not that it's easy, he added. "I would think the initial blow of the embarrassment is the hardest part. It hasn't all played out but, any way you cut it, they drag you through the mud."
When Leake reached the dugout after his final inning, though, he got a handshake, and a brief hug from his manager.
"I love these guys," Baker said. "They're really like my boys, like my sons. Sometimes you chastise them; sometimes you've got to spank them. My dad, I got a million spankings. They weren't called spankings back then, they were called whippings. But I knew my dad still loved me.
"So I was glad for him. I was proud of him. And we needed it. That was the biggest win we've had since opening day."