World Series – Game Seven
Don’t hold your breath.
It was the first and most important rule…or maybe the second. Miles could never remember the order of the rules he’d made for himself, he just knew it was vital he follow them.
Don’t listen to the crowd.
That might be the first rule.
Oh, who cared?
All around him the noise was a deafening series of booms, pounding down on him with the violence and tenacity of two giant fists. He sucked in a breath through his nostrils and let it out slowly from his mouth. Sweat dripped from his temple in rivulets he was helpless to stop. Between the Atlanta heat—much higher than usual for the end of October—and the pressure of the situation, he had already needed to change his jersey once tonight.
A blur of navy blue and red filled the stadium, reminding him this was enemy territory and he was leading the charge against them. If he looked hard enough, he might find some orange mixed in with the home team colors, but not enough to comfort him.
He wished he were back at Felons Stadium in San Francisco. Maybe the comforts of home would make this situation less terrifying.
Game seven. Bottom of the ninth. The Felons were up by one run, and all he had to do was protect the lead. Three outs from victory, and those three outs were weighing heavy on his shoulders.
The Felons regular closer, Austin Briggs, had put too much strain on his shoulder, and the team’s athletic trainer had said playing him tonight would most likely end his career.
So, with a string of other bullpen relievers waiting in the wings, the team’s manager, Chuck Calvin, opted for Miles instead.
What Calvin didn’t know, and what Miles had done his damnedest to keep from everyone, was that pitching in game four had put too much stress on his arm.
Calvin and the team’s head athletic trainer, Emmy Casper, were sure he was ready, in spite of breaking his collarbone earlier in the season.
Miles didn’t necessarily agree with them.
Now, standing on the mound with the overhead lights beating down on him, he was regretting agreeing to play. His shoulder screamed in agony, throbbing along with each frantic beat of his heart. His brain was telling him this was a mistake, he was going to fuck everything up.
Already he’d walked the first batter up to the plate. Sure, he struck out the second one, but just having a man on first made him uneasy. He could wave the manager down now, call for a timeout, and excuse himself from the game.
He would finish the game. He would win the game.
He needed to focus.
Sweat dripped into his eyelashes, and he blinked it away, staring down the Braves’ batter standing at home plate. Miles had struck the guy out three times in game four. Aging batters who used to hit for power were suckers for a changeup. They’d see it coming as a fastball, and would already be swinging when the speed dropped off at the end. It had worked against him up until this point, and Miles didn’t see any need to change now.
Alex Ross, the Felons catcher, threw down a signal asking for a slider.
What was he thinking?
Miles knew he’d been impressive throughout the season. He was the Felons’ fifth starter, and the press were whispering about Rookie of the Year contention. Miles tried not to let that stuff get to his head, but it was hard for him to avoid feeling like an impostor when Sports Illustrated ran articles with his photo and headlines like “Is Miles Cartwright the second coming of Nolan Ryan?”
No, he wasn’t.
Miles was not the second coming of anyone. And as someone who’d grown up in Texas idolizing Nolan Ryan, he loathed the comparison because it would only give the doubters something to point at when he failed.
Which brought him back to the plate, where he shook Ross off. The slider was arguably the worst of his four pitches. He’d given up twelve home runs in the regular season off it. His command was shaky, and he couldn’t always locate the damned ball in the zone, no matter how good Ross was at pitch framing.
Ross gave him the signal for a straight heater. Fastball down the middle. Again, Miles shook him off. Evidently two shake-offs was all Ross had patience for. He asked the umpire for a timeout and jogged up to the pitcher’s mound. The Atlanta crowd booed heartily.
Miles immediately covered his mouth with his glove, an age-old tradition with pitchers who wanted to avoid having their lips read by cameras or opposing players. It was a pretty silly thing to do, he thought, but it was the way the game was played.
Ross gave him a friendly squeeze on the shoulder and lifted his own glove, in spite of the fact he was wearing his catcher’s mask.
“You doing okay, kid?” he asked. “Feeling good?”
“Oh, yeah. Just peachy.” One of the leather tassels on Miles’s glove tickled his lip. A line of sweat slid down his cheek, and he hastily wiped it away with the back of his arm.
“Any reason you keep shaking off perfectly good calls?”
“I want to throw him the changeup,” Miles explained.
“He’s seen your changeup.”
“And he swings at it every time.”
The umpire started his slow walk towards the mound to tell them they were out of time.
“You sure about this?” Ross gave him a meaningful look, like he wanted to say more but wouldn’t just spit it out.
Fuck it. Miles knew what he was doing.
“Yeah. I’m sure.” His gaze flicked over to the runner on first, a tall guy chewing a big wad of pink gum like he didn’t have a care in the world.
Around them, the stadium roar had turned into white noise. Miles wiped at his sweat again.
“All right, kid.” Ross gave him a quick pat on the butt. “You’ve got this.” The umpire had joined them at this point, but Ross merely gave him the nod, and they walked back to home plate together.
Miles rotated his shoulders, and the muscles screamed. He closed his eyes and tried to blot the pain out by sheer force of will. He was hurting badly, and a logical part of his brain told him he should be calling Calvin and Emmy out of the dugout to let them know his night was done.
But who would they bring out instead? The whole bullpen was beat up and exhausted. They could turn to another starter, but would it be fair to throw in someone like Tucker to get these last two outs?
No, Miles wanted this. He wanted to show the team they were right to trust him. He wanted to prove that all the good things being said about him weren’t without reason.
He took a deep breath to steady his nerves then dug his cleat into the dirt of the mound. Ross didn’t bother to give him a sign, he simply squared up his glove behind the plate and gave Miles a miniscule leather target to aim for.
Don’t hold your breath, Miles reminded himself, sucking in a big gulp of air.
He lifted his leg, adjusted his grip on the ball, and let it fly. The pitch took less than a second to reach the plate, but that was more than enough time for Miles to see the mistake. The ball didn’t drop. He had misjudged his release point, and the ball soared right towards the heart of the plate without dropping.
A home run sounded different than any other hit. It had a beautiful, crisp, wooden resonance. Miles didn’t need to watch the ball to know it had left the field; he heard it all in the bat.
The crowd screamed with maddening delight. The batter tossed his bat towards the Braves’ dugout and began a slow trot around the bags.
Two-run home run.
A walk-off win.
The game was over, and Miles had just lost the Felons the World Series.