With Peter Rabbit a hare busy this week, we’re swapping days. Fiction Friday will occur today and Carrots of Wisdom will be featured on Friday.

This is a bit of commuter fiction. The majority of the story was composed on the drive home from work on Tuesday.

Avery Miller threw his final warm up pitch. As the catcher returned the ball to him, he reflected on the enormity of the situation. Bottom of the ninth, one run lead, sacks jammed, division title on the line. This was the situation that called for a shutdown closer – a guy like the dominant reliever for the Gazelles, Antwon Stapleton. Unfortunately, Stapleton had gotten them into this mess, and his utter lack of command had forced the manager to turn the game over the Miller.

Miller took a deep breath, toed the rubber, and took a big stride toward the plate. The book on Miller was that he tended to nibble around the edges with breaking balls, so he cut loose with his best fastball. The ball took off like a missile, bound for the low, inside corner of the plate. Mark Irick of the Cougars was looking for the fastball and made solid contact. The ball soared high into the air down the left field line. The umpire twirled his finger to signify the home run. Avery cursed under his breath. The crowd roared in appreciation of the blast that propelled their team into the playoffs.

In the midst of the melee, Gazelle manager Spud Walker popped out of the dugout and headed for home plate, where he proceeded to argue that the ball was not a home run – rather, he said, the ball had drifted slightly to the left of the foul pole.

The umpires huddled briefly before heading to the instant replay booth. The crowd held its collective breath as the umpires reviewed the call. When they finally came back onto the field, they ruled that the ball was foul by inches. The crowd booed lustily.

Mark Irick readied himself for the next pitch, this time with a count of no balls and one strike. He tapped his bat against each of his spikes three times, in order to knock the imaginary dirt loose. He loosened and tightened his batting gloves. His routine finished, he stepped back into the batter’s box.

Miller shook off a couple of signs from his catcher before getting the call he wanted – a pitch outside the strike zone. He was hoping that Irick would be overaggressive and swing at the bad pitch. The former MVP was not fooled, however. The bat never left his shoulder as the pitched sailed past him for a ball.

Miller’s next pitch was a bit high and inside. Irick flinched a bit, but stood his ground in the box and watched to count go to 2-1. The next pitch was in the lower third of the strike zone, but was a bit more toward the middle of the plate than Avery would have liked, and Irick swung and drove the ball high and deep – but way foul.

Miller’s next pitch was outside by a half inch, and the count was full. With the bases loaded, Avery couldn’t afford a ball, so he was forced to throw in the strike zone. Irick fouled one pitch just out of the range of the third baseman and the next pitch was fouled into the crowd in back on home plate.

The stadium, in spite of the capacity crowd, was as quiet as a tomb – allowing Irick to focus intently on the pitches.

Miller took another deep breath before snapping off a 12-to-6 curve. As the pitch broke sharply, the bat entered the strike zone and launched the ball toward the deepest part of center field. David MacFarland raced toward the wall in a futile effort to catch up to the ball. Incredibly, he caught up to the ball as he reached the outfield fence. MacFarland timed his jump perfectly and extended his six foot four inch frame to its maximum extent. The ball hit the edge of his glove for a split second before popping back up into the air and falling to the ground. A moment later, MacFarland landed on the ground with a thud.

As the first Cougars runner crossed the plate, Mark Irick stood at home, spellbound by the play. As another runner raced toward the plate, Irick broke free from the trance and began to run toward first base.

Left fielder Brian Johnson raced to the ball and freed it from under MacFarland’s body. He set himself and gunned the ball toward first base. The first baseman stretched to catch the wild throw. He gloved the ball and tapped first base with his foot a split second before Irick crossed the base.

Since the play was a force out, the runs that had crossed the plate did not count. Avery Miller escaped the game with a save, and the Gazelles were playoff bound.

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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