honorary Hose Monster:
Abe adjusted his grip, reached back and delivered to my boy Marc sitting first base. He threw 7 on top of 6.
Over the past couple of weeks, we had seen mixed success going up against Asian Abe. Three weeks ago, the last time he had started the game, Asian Abe did not have his best stuff and we peppered him for successive 19s, 20s and 21s against hanging 5s and 6s like nobody's business. Doug had to yank Abe early in the game and bring out a series of southpaws to try and shut us down, but by then the game was out of reach. The following Sunday, however, we looked to be just starting a rally when Doug walked over from the dugout, had a brief consultation with Ed, the rookie fireballer with no control on the curve, before turning to the bullpen and tapping his right forearm. Abe emerged from the pen and proceeded to shut us down, artfully mixing the off-speed stuff with the fastball, dropping 14s and 15s on us back to back, and even when we'd start putting something together and get runners on, Abe would reach back and blow the heater by us, dropping a 5 on his Jack-6 and stabbing the dagger through our hearts and our coffers.
I sat third base on this night, anchoring the line-up and hoping to drive home some runs by making good hits and staying with the count on other at-bats. Asian Abe wound up and delivered 8 on top of 4 to Drew sitting second base. Working the count, he sat back and waited patiently for Abe's next delivery.
Asian Abe had been artfully mixing the breaking pitch with location pitches, but he had not proved untouchable on this night. We had driven some pitches deep in the gaps and brought a couple men home, but had left more ducks out on the pond waiting for collection than we would have liked. As the game had moved into the later innings, we could see Asian Abe beginning to bear down, knowing that his flip had lost a little on the velocity; in the late innings, he looked intent on trying to keep us off balance, wanting us to sit fastball when he brought the change.
I watched him hurl 7 at me and let it hit the turf just behind the 2 already sitting there. Abe then opened the count on himself with a hanging 6.
The sign from the first base coach was clear. Take the pitch. Work the count. Let Asian Abe pitch himself into trouble and we walk a few bucks over.
Asian Abe turned back to the left side of the diamond and stared down the first baseman, checking the signs. Marc waived his hand, taking the pitch. Abe leaned, turned and checked off Drew. He took the pitch as well. Sitting with their counts and seeing Abe showing 6, I would have taken their pitches as well. Odds said that unless Abe sat on a number and then hurled himself up that pitch, we stood to build a little rally.
But I sat on a 9 count, knowing that I could play the pitch a number of ways. Against a less-experienced hurler, a southpaw brought up from Laughlin or the farm team in Reno, I knew I could sit fastball and drive it into the gap when he brought a face against me. A rookie pitcher would see the count all over the diamond, feel the heat and would let his focus on making each pitch slide. He would not know that he cannot battle back by throwing meat out over the heart of the block. Players like the boys and I had seen too many pitches and knew the minds of too many rotisserie dealers to sit there waiting for anything else but our girl with the flower on that count.
On the other hand, Doug had brought Asian Abe out of the bullpen to shut down our hot hands that Sunday for good reason. Abe was epitome of the crafty veteran. He knew when players guessed change and blew the heater right by them. He knew when to change speeds and when to waste pitches. He had confidence in his ability to throw the breaking ball late in the count when the bases were loaded, and he would pull the string on a curve ball when you were looking for the index finger and make you look foolish.
The runners on first and second both looked in and told me with their eyes to take the pitch. Small ball, they said. Put some runners on, let Abe pitch himself into trouble, chip away at him until he walked us all.
But in the late innings we had not had any luck putting together any sort of rally, and with a 9 count in front of me, Asian Abe, crafty though he was, could not afford to try and get too creative. He had to give me something to hit. I glanced at my coaches, gave them the swing away sign, and watched them sigh in acquiescence.
Dropping the rosin bag from his hand, Abe toed the rubber, came set and peered in at me for the sign, shaking off one after another. Tired or not, he was feeling it, the energy. He wanted to blow one by me. I gave him the one-finger, extended my index and touched it down firmly behind my 9 count.
King of Diamonds, right down the heart. I turned and shot it right back up the box.
Marc at first base and Drew at second responded by hanging their heads. They were going to have to run it out now. That king should have been Asian Abe’s pitch, they reasoned. Sitting six, they figured Abe would have pitched himself right into the 26 jam for which they had hoped with that flop. But rather than taking Abe’s delivery, I had sat back on a face and driven 19 in the gap. They were going to have to get on their horse to score now.
I waived off the next delivery, and Abe immediately begun his delivery to himself. Grabbed his 6 up and used its edge to flip his blank down and reveal a 5. 6-5 11.
Drew and Marc had not expected Asian Abe’s team to turn the count on them with such a defensive play. Had I tried to take that last pitch, Abe would have completely pulled the string on them as they sat there hoping for a 16-face result, bringing their men in to score. Had I not swung at that pitch, Abe would have gone 11-King on all of us and we would have been out of luck. Game over, hit the showers, try to find some hussies at the all-night cocktail lounge to try and keep the evening from being a total bust.
As it stood, we still had to get our asses moving and hope that we could outrace a stacked deck. Asian Abe drops another face and we all get wrung up trying to slide home. Doug gets the Gatorade bath and a ruined off-the-rack polyester suit, and Abe rides the Cy Young award all the way to the top spot in the dealer rotation and the coveted role of closer coming out of the bullpen to shut down the hot table.
Abe stretched, checked the runners and came to the plate in front of him. We came up spades. Label Ace. Base hit on 12.
A collective sigh of relief escaped the three of us around the horn, and our hearts began the race home. We were deep in the count now, and all three of us knew it. Asian Abe reached back down for the rosin bag, drying his fingers and trying to work some of the tension of the moment out of his elbow. Doug moved over, standing on the top step of the dugout, eyeing the players, wondering if we could outrun the defense behind his veteran pitcher. Full count. Payoff pitch.
Jack’s throw to the plate at 22 could not beat us racing in to score. I slid in safely, hi-fived my teammates and caught Abe trying to clean up the remnants of the game in front of him, trying to put out the fire before it was too late. But Doug had seen enough, placed his hand briefly on Asian Abe’s left shoulder before turning to the bullpen and tapping his left forearm. Time for Asian Abe to hit the showers.