Leiter likely to retire after Classic

Leiter likely to call it a career after Classic

PHOENIX -- The focus this week has been on the future of Roger Clemens, but Al Leiter, who has had a distinguished career, said he probably will hang 'em up after the World Baseball Classic.

"This could be the last thing I do," Leiter told MLB.com on Monday as Team USA held one more practice session at Chase Field before opening pool play against Mexico at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday. "Very much so."

Leiter, the left-hander who has pitched 19 seasons in the Major Leagues and is in camp this spring on a make-good contract with the New York Yankees, was a late addition to the U.S. squad.

Leiter, who finished last season with the Yankees, said he primarily signed a Minor League contract to get in shape hoping that a spot might open up for him on the 30-man U.S. roster rather than return for a 20th big-league season.

"My mind was more on this than the other," Leiter said.

Leiter was placed on the 52-man U.S. provisional roster, but he did not make the initial cut. While players withdrew from Classic rosters in the weeks before the tournament, Leiter was one man pining to play. He got his wish. When C.C. Sabathia opted out, Leiter received the call from U.S. manager Buck Martinez and was added to the team.

"Buck told me originally that there could still be a possibility," said Leiter, who turned 40 this past Oct. 23. "He said, 'You never know what could happen during Spring Training with guys getting hurt.' Not that I was hoping for that, but I figured if a guy tweaked a hamstring or maybe came up with a sore shoulder, I might get a shot."

Martinez made no promises, but Leiter was a perfect fit for the open slot. He's slated to pitch in Wednesday's 4 p.m. ET start against predominantly lefty-swinging Canada. Marlins lefty Dontrelle Willis is scheduled to start and go the first three innings, with Leiter slated to throw the next two.

The fact that Leiter struggled a bit against the San Francisco Giants on Sunday during a 12-7 U.S. exhibition win hasn't altered any plans.

"You know what? He threw pretty well [Sunday]," Martinez said about Leiter. "He made some bad pitch selections at times and didn't get the ball where he wanted. I'm not worried about Al Leiter. So we're fine. We're going to stay to the course and stick to the plan."

Leiter pitched the third inning in relief of Clemens and allowed four runs on five hits. He inherited a 6-0 lead and left with a 6-4 edge. Leiter pointed out that although it was his first appearance of the spring and first since the American League Division Series last October, he knows that he won't have that kind of margin of error during pool play.

"I'm sure I'm going to be on a lot shorter leash than four runs," Leiter said. "I'm aware of that. It's going to feel a lot different knowing the game means everything to us."

That's the way of life in a tournament like this one. To go on to the next round, the U.S. must win at least two of its three games in this pool, plus the head-to-head with the squad that ties them at 2-1. The top two of the four teams -- the U.S., Mexico, Canada and South Africa -- move on to Anaheim to play Japan and Korea at Angel Stadium, beginning Sunday.

Leiter, who has a 162-132 lifetime record and played for the 1997 World Series champion Florida Marlins and the 2000 National League champion New York Mets, knows the score.

"Spring Training is normally a buildup process," Leiter said. "I've thrown a little long toss, but I didn't throw live in camp with the Yankees. I threw three sides and two batting practices. But I'm not worried about it."

What Leiter is worried about is perhaps eight more games, then over and out. Clemens has options, possible free agent deals after the tournament is over with the Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers or a May 1 return to the Houston Astros. Clemens said he hasn't decided, but on occasions the Rocket sounds like a man who, at 43, is ready to cash it in.

"When this is over, Roger will pitch," said Leiter, who was much less certain about his own future. "For me, this could be it."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.