Leake pitched seven scoreless innings in the Cardinals' 9-0 win over the Phillies on a rainy afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. It was the longest start of the second half for the right-hander, and it marked the second time in 25 starts this season in which Leake did not allow a run.
"He needed that. We needed that," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It was a great outing for him. … He went out and did a great job of making pitches all day long. He had a real closeness right around the plate and got the ground balls when he needed them."
Leake struck out eight Phillies in the outing, but he also got into trouble on a few occasions. He allowed seven hits and nine baserunners, and a total of five men reached in the first two innings.
Leake, 28, worked out of those jams and again dodged trouble in the sixth inning. Maikel Franco and Ryan Howard led off the inning with back-to-back singles, but Leake retired the next three hitters in order.
"He controlled the zone. From the side, it looked like he had really good depth on his sinker," Matheny said. "You're seeing some strange swings, because the ball was moving a lot for him today. I thought he used his changeup well and the breaking ball was there, too, when he wanted it."
As Leake's team hit Phillies starter Vince Velasquez hard, the Cardinals didn't take a commanding lead until the fourth inning, when he shot that two-out single up the middle with runners on second and third. It was Leake's seventh hit and third and fourth RBIs of the season.
"It definitely helps. To get a few runs on the board and open up that much of a lead, you can go into attack mode a bit more," Leake said. "There's a little more margin for error."
Leake lowered his season ERA to 4.56, a good sign for a pitcher who had an 8.04 ERA in his previous five starts entering Sunday. In his first season with the Cardinals, Leake is hoping to give the team a reliable arm as it chases a playoff spot, and he can do so if he keeps pitching like he did on Sunday.
"Games like this are what you strive to do every time," Leake said. "It's somewhere I hope I can stay."
Stephen Pianovich is a contributor to MLB.com based in Philadelphia.