But the Game Wasn’t Over
Mike and Blueberry sat next to the hero of the bottom of the first, happier than Bobby had seen them in a long time. And what was even better, he knew he was himself the reason. The Pirates led three to nothing. But Tim got out on the next fly ball, popping it to Delwyn of all people. And, wouldn’t you know it, this time Delwyn didn’t drop it.
It was, like all 4-H softball games, a five-inning game. And being the home team, the Pirates only had to hold on to the lead until the top of the fifth inning was over. And Mike was on his usual game. That fastball, even though it was underhanded and using a ball that floated through the air like a watermelon, burned holes through the Lincoln township bats and Tim Kellogg’s catcher’s mitt for good measure. Three more strike-outs in each of the second, and third innings.
But Clarion’s blond Apollo wasn’t going to stay shook up for a whole game either. And he could also windmill in a scorching-hot fastball. He matched Mike strikeout after strikeout.
In the fourth inning, both teams got a couple of runners on base. But the Leaders scored two runs when Watson hit a double with runners on base. And the Pirate’s fourth had two men on base, one of whom was a girl, but Bobby struck out instead of driving them in, and Tim made the last out again after him.
So, it all came down to the final inning, and the Pirates with only a one-run lead.
Bobby, of course, spoke directly to the Big Guy in the Sky. “Don’t let them hit it to me. Whatever you do, don’t make that ball come to me.”
The first batter up was Leroy Watson. And wouldn’t you know it, the gol darn Apollo hit a ball to deep left field that Billy Martin could only get to on the bounce. Billy’s arm was good enough to wing it into the home plate to hold Watson to a triple. Still, the tying run was on third base.
Mike on the mound had to really bear down and throw hard strikes for the rest of the inning. The next two Leaders struck out. But you could see the strain on Mike’s face. In fact, you could see it all the way from deep right field.
“Please, don’t let that ball come to me. Hit it to Billy. He’s good at catching fly balls. He’ll win the game for us.”
But it didn’t get hit out to any field. In fact, the bats didn’t get near the ball for two more batters. Mike pitched eight consecutive balls outside the strike zone.
“It’s okay, Mike. Let your fielders help you. Your arm is getting tired of throwing it so hard,” Coach Kellogg said in a wise old voice that made Bobby’s heart drop down from the middle of his chest, down into his behind, and eventually down his right leg and all the way out through the bottom of his right shoe.
And Bobby knew where it was coming. Delwyn Marmoody was up to bat. And Bobby’s heart was tunnelling down into the grass somewhere beneath him.
“Be on your toes, fielders!” cried Tim from his position at catcher.
“You can do this, Bobby!” cried Blueberry from the bench.
Why did she have to yell that? She put the curse on him! He wished he could turn into a swan once again and fly away.
Two strikes and two balls later, Delwyn swung. The bat went, “TUNK!” And the ball was flying through the air… Directly at Bobby in right field.
“Gotta get under it”
“You can do it, Bobby!”
“Shut up, Blue!”
And then it settled into Bobby’s open glove.
And he was about to lift it high in the air in triumph…
When it rolled out again and hit the ground, somewhere on top of Bobby’s buried heart.
“AW, NO!!!” cried the Norwall crowd in unison.
The runners were going with the crack of the bat, so two of them had already crossed the plate when Billy came scrambling into right field, got the ball and cannoned it to home plate to keep them only one run behind. The runner trying for a third score was out at the plate.
There was a shallow hope in the bottom of the fifth inning. Two runs would win the game. One run would tie it and give them an extra inning.
But Johnny Miller struck out.
And when Dilsey Murphy got up, she hit a double to right field. And there was a glimmer of hope with one out.
Then Mike got up. Mike was the most dangerous hitter the Pirates had. Watson intentionally walked him.
“It’s gonna be hero time again for you, Bobby,” Blueberry whispered in his ear.
Frosty Anderson got up to the plate with his meanest game-face sneering away at the Clarion Apollo. He banged the heavy bat Mike had used on the plate to show how much business he actually meant.
“Hit it out, Frosty!” hollered Tim Kellogg. “Or you-know-who is up next!”
Bobby did know who. And there went his heart again, headed for the depths of the dirt in the dugout.
The pitch swished in at just about the perfect spot for Frosty to hit it, and he swung with all the might of Hercules. He topped the ball to the third baseman who stepped on the bag and zipped to first for the double play.
Frosty Anderson came barrelling over to the Pirate bench with so much anger that fire was blazing up out of his ears and lighting his blond hair on fire.
“You know who really lost us the game, don’t you?” he screamed directly at Bobby. Suddenly he was directly in front of Bobby, pushing him with two hands. Bobby went backwards over the bench and landed on his back in the sand.
Mike grabbed Frosty from behind, whirled him around, and presented him with a cocked right fist, ready to knock the angry boy’s block off just like in the Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots commercials.
“You need to blame somebody, hero? Who hit into the double play at the end? Bobby’s on our team. And he’s the one who drove in three runs to put us ahead.”
“Okay, okay… Sorry, Bobby. But he did drop the game-ending out.”
“Whatta you think, Bobby? Should I hit him?”
“No, please don’t. He’s a Pirate too.”
“Good boy, Bob. That’s the way we hold a team together,” said Coach Kellogg as he picked Bobby up off the ground and set him back on his own feet again.
The whole group said that it wasn’t Bobby’s fault that they lost, mostly because Coach Kellogg asked them to, but not all of them meant it.
“We almost won,” said Blueberry.
“No, we didn’t,” Bobby said quietly so only Blue could hear, “But thanks for thinking so. You have a good heart.”