Closing Day, part 2

By
Updated: May 26, 2019

The rookie left hander Yashi Suto snapped the first curveball just off the corner of the plate for ball one. Danny Burke held onto the pitch a little longer than usual, then said to the man in blue behind him, “You couldn’t give that one to the rookie?”

“Cuz he’s a rookie?” the ump snarled back. “He’s gotta earn ‘em.”

Burke tossed the ball back to the mound, put down 2 fingers again, and watched the young lefty snap another curveball toward the corner of the strike zone. The hitter fouled it off straight back. Burke didn’t even look at it, let alone move. The ump had stepped back out of the way, anticipating Burke chasing the foul ball. He returned to his position, handed a new ball to the catcher, and muttered, “You couldn’t bother chasin’ that one for the rookie?”

Burke said nothing, just waggled one finger down and set up a target inside. Suto wound up and threw, and the batter promptly punched the pitch past the second baseman.

“Not one a’ your best calls, Burke,” the ump chided.

“You trying to get my goat?” the catcher said as he stood and signaled to the fielders that there was one out.

The ump was silent, but Burke could see a hint of a smile on the old man’s face behind the mask, so he kicked some dirt around the plate, forcing the umpire to bend over and sweep the plate clean. When they returned to their positions, no one spoke.

After another curve that just missed, Suto painted the black with two curves that started at the hitter’s belt and finished in Burke’s glove flat on the ground. The batter swung wildly over both, nearly toppling himself after the second curveball.

Ahead one-and-two, Burke called for fastballs. Both were well off the plate. Burke went back to the curveball and the batter fouled it off. He called for another one and the batter bounced a slow grounder to the second baseman, who charged onto the infield grass and in one slick move barehanded the ball, did a 180, and fired the ball to the shortstop covering second. Out.

Burke pointed at the second baseman to indicate he appreciated the sharp play, then stepped in front of the plate to signal two outs. The ump tossed a new ball to Suto on the mound and the whole ritual began again.

With another lefty at the plate, Burke called for curveballs, three in a row. One was fouled off, one missed the plate, one froze the hitter. One ball, two strikes, two outs. Burke called for the fastball.

Behind him the ump muttered something and Burke stood up and called time. He jogged out to the mound.

“Can’t believe that fuckin’ ump, he’s questioning my calls!”

Yashi understood not a word, except maybe fuckin. “Hum pire?” he asked in his limited English.

“Yeah, the fuckin’ umpire!” 

Yashi smiled and nodded, watched Burke’s response, then nodded some more.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Burke spit out, “you keep nodding like you wanna throw the fastball, but throw the curve, okay?”

Yashi stopped nodding. Pitcher and catcher stared at one another. The umpire began his slow trek to the mound to break up this conference. Before he could get there, Burke whispered to Yashi, “Number two, okay? Number two.”

Yashi smiled and nodded. He knew what number two was.

Burke headed back to the plate before the ump reached the mound.

“What you two jabberin’ on about? Rook don’t even speak English.”

“Oh, he knows more than he lets on,” Burke said as mysteriously as he could, then squatted behind the plate. When the batter settled into the box, Burke shouted, “Okay, Yashi, let’s get this over with!” He flashed a series of meaningless signs, then wiped his glove across his chest, the sign to erase all previous signs. He smiled. Yashi smiled back.

The pitcher came to his stop, checked the runner on first, and tossed the loveliest curveball of the day about three inches off the outside corner of the plate. The batter swung like he was sewing seeds, the bat flying out of his hands and into the dugout.

“STEEEE …” the ump bellowed, never actually pronouncing the second syllable of stee-rike, and the inning was over. Yuma still led 2-0.

Burke didn’t figure to bat in the top of the ninth, so when he reached the dugout he asked where Manager Goode had gone. A couple players shrugged, but the bat boy glanced down the runway to the clubhouse, so Burke headed down there. He had a few choice words for the 12 Million Dollar Man.

While he was gone, Yuma’s leadoff hitter walked, the second batter was hit by a pitch, and the third base coach—operating on his own initiative with the manager absent from the dugout—called for a sacrifice, something Goode would never have done. The third baseman Lucero laid down a nifty bunt moving both runners into scoring position and the Dozer bench came alive, hooting and waving at the base runners, pounding Lucero on the back for a beautiful sacrifice.

With the second baseman Leon at the plate, the Borealis brought their infield in, and Leon promptly belted a double to score both runners. Aurora fans were silent. They weren’t used to watching their team lose. Five-time PEBA champions with 7 consecutive appearances in the playoffs, the Borealis had spoiled their fans, raised expectations to a level where losing a single game to the bottom-feeding Bulldozers was hard to believe, even harder to endure, so the shouting from the stands turned ugly, aimed at the disappointing Borealis players who despite 96 wins were headed for defeat on this, the final evening of the regular season.

Boo birds booed. Cranky cranks cackled. Depressed dumbwits damned.  Fickle fans fickled. And more. 

Jejune juveniles gestured. Loquacious lotharios lamented. Malicious malcontents, pernicious patrons and querulous quacks all flipped the bird towards their own team. 

The stadium went mad! Roisterers rioted!

Well, not quite. A few drunken louts tried to climb down onto the field but security guards prevented them from interrupting the game.

A new pitcher warmed up for Aurora and Juan Uribe, anxious to return to the safety of the dugout, drilled the first pitch high in the air to left. The runner on second tagged up and advanced to third on the out.

Which brought … wait a minute, where was Danny Burke? The catcher was up. The bat boy went running down the tunnel to the clubhouse in search of him.

“What’s the hurry, sport?” Burke bellowed at the batboy.

“Yer up!” the kid shouted.

“I’m a comin’,” Burke said calmly.

“No. Now!”

“What!?”

“Uribe flew out,” the kid said, breathlessly. “Man on third, two out.”

Burke jogged out of the tunnel just as the umpire leaned into the Yuma dugout and shouted, “Get me a hitter or the inning’s over!”

“Right here,” Burke said, pulling off his chest protector before grabbing his bat from the rack.

“Mighta known,” the umpire said with a sneer. “Fuckin’ Danny Burke again. You makin’ a reputation for yourself, Catch.”

Burke pushed his way past the umpire and strode to the plate. He was oblivious to the sounds of the crowd, reduced in volume by Uribe’s fly out, but still nasty. A round-faced man with beer suds in his beard stood, back to the screen, directly behind home plate, faced up into the crowd and attempted to get a chant going, “Borealis suck! Borealis suck!” A few fans took it up, but it died out.

Burke stepped into the box. The Borealis catcher was laughing. “What’s so damn funny?” The catcher pointed at Burke’s legs. He was still wearing his shinguards.

“Damnit three ways to heaven,” Burke said and hustled over to the dugout where he flipped the snaps on his shinguards and tossed them to the bat boy.

When Burke stepped back into the box, the ump said, “Are you ready yet, Burke?” before giving the pitcher the signal to go ahead. The right hander with the unlikely name of Lando Lagerveld (which crudely translates to something like Land of the Beer Fields) came set, and Burke took a pitch several inches off the plate.

“Strike one,” the ump said.

Burke spun to face the man in blue, who just smiled. “You got sumpthin’ to say, Burke?” Burke stared for a moment, then shook his head. “Did’n think so,” the ump said.

Burke stepped out of the box to think it over. With Yuma leading 4-zip, and after what he’d said to his manager in the clubhouse, there was no way out of this but to get it over and done with. Burke shook his head again and stepped back into the box. He drilled the next pitch on a line into left field, straight at the left fielder, who seemed surprised to see the ball land in his glove without his having to move to catch it. 

Three down. 

And Danny Burke would put on the tools of ignorance one more time.

Bottom of the ninth coming up.