"Two outs! Two outs!" Matt turned and looked back at his fielder and nodded. It was the bottom of the ninth, game tied, and no runners on base. Matt took off his cap and wiped the sweat that formed on his forehead. He could feel the pressure on him, like he could reach out and grab it. After all, it was the last game of the high school regular season, and if they win, they're in the state playoffs. Matt turned and looked at first base, seeing Brett. Brett gave him a nod in order to help him calm down, even just slightly.
Matt looked forward and watched the batter as he stepped into the batter's box. After kicking at the dirt, he got into his batting position and stared at Matt. The catcher made a sign, fastball inside, close to the batter's chest. Matt nodded and moved into position on the mound. He took a deep breath, wound up, and threw the ball.
The ball went dead center through the plate. "Tch…not where I wanted." The catcher threw the ball back at him and crouched down again. Matt tried to steady himself and stared at the catcher. Curveball outside corner.
Matt got in position again, preparing to throw his one hundredth pitch of the game. He stuck his leg up and threw the pitch. "Ball."
Matt nodded in approval, not because it was a ball, but because he threw it exactly where he wanted. After catching the ball thrown back at him, he looked at the batter as he prepared himself for the next pitch. Matt gripped the ball harder and looked at the catcher again. Slider in the corner of the strike zone.
Matt grinned after he heard the call. Even after he had thrown over a hundred pitches, he still had his control. Fastball on the inside.
The clang of metal hitting the ball rang throughout the field. Matt looked and watched as the ball sailed foul. Matt breathed out a sigh of relief as the umpire tossed him another ball. The catcher looked at Matt and gave him the signal. Changeup at the bottom of the strike zone.
Matt got into position and stared at the plate, preparing himself. He wound up and pitched. He watched as the ball sailed towards the plate, dropping down. The batter swung the bat, but missed the ball as it flew under his bat.
Matt raised up his right arm, hand clenched, as he ran back to the dugout, the opposing fans booing him as he ran back. His manager patted his back as he walked into the dugout. "Great job out there! Now let's end it this inning!"
Matt nodded as he sat down on the bench. Brett walked past Matt and sat down next to him. "Good job." He then smirked. "I had my doubts you would be able to take the pressure."
Matt lightly pushed him and grinned. "Hey, says the guy who hasn't gotten a hit all game."
Brett chuckled. "That'll change next inning. I promise that."
Matt nodded. "Then you better keep your promise."
Brett stood up and grabbed his helmet and bat. He was the third batter due next inning, the top of the tenth.
Matt watched as the first batter walked up to the plate. On the first pitch, he swung and hit the ball. It was an easy grounder to the shortstop who threw it to the first baseman for the first out.
The second batter didn't have much better luck. He managed to get the pitcher to throw six pitches, but on the sixth pitch popped the ball up for the second out.
Brett walked up to the plate and swung his bat a couple times before taking his batters stance. The pitcher threw the ball, a slider on the inside of the plate. "Strike!"
Brett relaxed a bit and swung his bat once, staring at the pitcher. He got back into his stance and waited. The ball sailed towards the plate, but high outside the strike zone. "Ball."
Brett smiled as he stepped back and looked at his bat. He breathed in a huge gulp of air before heading back to the batter's box. He glanced out into the stands, hoping to get a glimpse of Leslie, his girlfriend. For one split second, he saw her, sitting on her seat, brow furrowed.
Looking back at the pitcher, Brett smiled. This one's going out of the park! The pitcher threw the ball towards him, and as Brett watched the ball, time seemed to have slowed down. Swinging his bat, he made solid contact with the ball.
The pitcher swung his body around to watch the ball as it sailed over the outfield. The right fielder sprinted back up to the wall and jumped, but the ball went just over his glove. There was a chorus of boos as Brett rounded the bases. After he touched home plate, he looked at where Leslie was. She was smiling widely, tears forming on the corners of her eyes.
Brett walked into the dugout, teammates swarming him, giving him high fives and patting him on the back. Matt was the last to greet him. "You definitely kept your promise."
Brett laughed. "That I did. Now, go and end this!"
Matt nodded and grabbed his glove, mentally preparing for when he had to get up on the mound. The next batter struck out on three pitches. As Matt walked out of the dugout and onto the mound, he kicked the dirt and inhaled a large amount of air. He looked over to the side and spotted Leslie, whom he had known since they were toddlers. She nodded at Matt, hoping to give him all the support she could.
Matt nodded back as the catcher kneeled in front of home plate. Matt threw a few warmup pitches and grinned. I still feel pretty good.
The first batter walked up to the batter's box and took his batting stance. Fastball inside.
Matt grinned as he caught the ball the catcher threw back at him. Changeup bottom left corner.
Slider right end of the plate.
The batter swung and missed the ball. The batter solemnly walked back to his dugout as the next batter took his position in the batter's box.
Fastball high inside.
The batter swung at the ball as it sailed into left field. The fielder caught the ball easily.
Matt's adrenaline was pumping. Just one more out until the state playoffs…
As he caught the ball the umpire threw at him, the next batter came up. Curveball inside corner.
Matt smiled as he caught the ball. Two more strikes! He watched the catcher for the sign. Fastball bottom corner.
Matt got into position and threw the ball. *Clang* Matt watched as the ball sailed a little over the shortstop's glove and into left field. The fans started to stand on their feet and clap. Matt took a deep breath to stabilize himself.
Just a single. I still have the advantage.
Matt was thrown another ball as he kicked the dirt on the mound. Sweat was starting to form on his hand. He picked up the rosin bag and dried the sweat. He watched the catcher for the signal as the batter got into position. Changeup bottom inside corner.
*Clang* The ball quickly blew past Matt as the ball went into center field. The batter from first managed to make his way to second as the batter made it to first. The crowd began to roar and cheer. The catcher called for a mound visit and jogged up to Matt, glove over his mouth. "You okay man?"
Matt put his glove over his mouth as well. "Yeah, I am. I'm throwing where I want the ball to be. They just got lucky hitting them."
The catcher nodded. "Pitch to contact this time. If they're able to hit your pitches, we might as well control where they hit. The fielders will catch the ball for you."
Matt nodded. "Understood."
The catcher patted Matt on the shoulder and jogged back to home plate. He crouched down behind the plate and punched his glove. Matt looked for the signal. Changeup down low.
He gripped the ball tightly and looked at first base. The runner wasn't that far away from the base and gave no inclination he was planning on stealing second. Matt raised his leg and threw the ball. But as he went to release the ball, it slipped from his hand at the last second. The ball bounced right in front of the catcher and went above his head. He threw off his mask as he went to chase the ball down. Both runners advanced. Matt let out an exasperated sigh as he kicked the dirt.
Another ball was tossed to him as he tried to calm himself. He grabbed the rosin bag and dried his hands. He looked at the catcher's signal. Fastball inside.
Matt nodded and looked at third. He then threw the ball. It went a bit too far to the right. "Ball."
The crowd cheered even louder. Matt caught the ball that was tossed to him and tried to ignore the raucous cheering. Fastball dead center.
Matt nodded his head. Must be calling fastballs to try to calm me down…
He threw the ball and watched as it flew towards the plate. *Clang* Matt watched the ball sail right, clearly foul. Matt breathed a sigh of relief as he was tossed another ball.
Slider inside corner. The batter swung and missed. "Strike."
Matt coolly caught the ball and tried to keep his nerves under control. He looked at the catcher's signal.
Changeup outside bottom corner.
Matt nodded and pitched. "Ball."
Matt sighed as he heard the call. That was clearly on the plate! That was a strike!
He caught the ball and kicked the dirt, releasing his frustration. He then stared at the catcher again. Fastball inside.
Matt nodded, lifted his leg, and pitched. "Ball. Ball four."
The crowd erupted into cheers as the batter jogged to first base. Matt wiped his forehead with his arm and tried to keep calm. His pitching coach requested a meeting to the mound and walked towards him. "You look rattled out here."
Matt put his glove over his mouth. "I'm fine. I just have some adrenaline running through me is all."
The catcher arrived at the mound and put his glove over his mouth. "That adrenaline is ruining the feel you have for your pitches. They don't feel the same catching them."
"I know…I'm trying to do everything I can to keep calm and get the grip back on my pitches. I won't let you or the team down."
A hand was placed on his shoulder. "Don't worry about us. You just focus on getting the final out."
Matt turned and looked at Brett, who and walked over from first. "If they get contact, we'll catch it. We all have your back. We all believe you can end this!"
The catcher and pitching coach nodded. The coach smiled and started to walk away. The catcher patted Matt on the back. "Let's go end this!"
Matt nodded. "Yeah, let's do this!"
Brett walked back to first and the catcher behind home plate. Matt took a deep breath and waited for the catcher's signal. Fastball inside corner.
Matt raised his leg and threw the ball. "Strike!"
The crowd fell silent as Matt caught the ball. Curveball outside.
The batter swung and missed as the catcher caught the ball. "Strike."
The crowd started to cheer, hoping to give the batter some encouragement. Matt watched for the signal.
Changeup down low.
Matt nodded, lifted up his leg, and pitched. *Clang* Matt swung around as the ball sailed past the infield and deep towards the outfield. The center fielder dashed back towards the wall and watched as it sailed far past the wall. The crowd erupted into a frenzied roar as the opposing players charged from the dugout to meet the batter. Matt slowly walked back towards the dugout, fighting back tears.
The coach met him at the entrance of the dugout. "That was a good pitch. He just got lucky." Matt shook his head. "No…there's no other way around it…I choked. I let the whole team down." Matt brushed past the coach and watched as the opposing players celebrated on the field. Matt's fists clenched as tears finally began to run down his cheek. He looked to the right and saw Brett standing next to him. He was silent as he stared at the field.
As the team's celebration began to quiet down, the team started to leave the dugout to leave the ballpark. As Matt walked next to Brett, he could see the glares his teammates gave him as they walked past him.
After a bus ride back to the school, the team got out of the bus and met at the entrance of the school. The coach cleared his throat. "Guys, we have nothing to be ashamed of. We were one win away from the playoffs."
The third baseman scoffed. "Yeah, and we would have except SOMEONE couldn't keep his nerves under control."
Matt stared at the ground, feeling the glares of the other teammates. The coach's face turned red in anger. "Nate, want me to go over your stat line for not just this game, but the game we lost two days ago? Eight at bats, zero hits, four errors, with three runs coming as a result of those errors. You left two guys stranded on base by striking out in the sixth inning today. In fact, we left a total of fifteen batters stranded, ten of them were in scoring position. We had our chances today, and you all blew those chances. If anyone believes that it's only one person's fault, you're not welcome on my team."
The other players looked away from the coach, trying to avoid his angered glare. The coach shook his head. "To the seniors…I'm sorry we couldn't get to the playoffs in your time here. I wish you all the best, and if you ever need help, don't be afraid to call or text me."
Matt, Brett, and a few other seniors nodded, with a couple of them choking up with emotion. Soon, the last team meeting of the year ended and the players went their separate ways. Brett and Matt walked to a light post and stood there, waiting for their ride to come. Brett broke the couple minutes of silence.
"It's not your fault you know."
Matt glanced at Brett before turning away. "No…it was. I let my nerves get the best of me. We were one out away…yet I couldn't get that one last out."
Brett shook his head. "That last pitch was perfect, perfect movement, spin, and location. The batter was lucky and managed to hit it. In fact, you kept your nerves pretty well in the bottom of the ninth. One wrong move, and I wouldn't have had the chance to give us the lead. If anything, the coach's refusal to bring in Zach or Joshuan to relieve you. You were over a hundred pitches, and fatigue was obviously starting to affect your control. I believe that's why he was so quick to defend you earlier."
Matt still stared in front of him. A car drove in from the road and stopped in front of them. Leslie got out of the car and looked at them. "You gonna stand there or do you wanna go home?"
Brett smirked. "I'd like to go home."
Matt mumbled in agreement as he got into the back seat while Brett sat in the front passenger seat. As they drove off, Leslie looked in her rearview mirror at Matt. "You did well today Matt."
Matt didn't respond as he stared out the window. Leslie opened her mouth to say more but Brett shook his head. The rest of the ride was silent. After fifteen minutes, Leslie pulled up outside a small, dimly lit house in a questionable neighborhood. "We're here."
Matt nodded. "Thanks. See you at school tomorrow guys."
Matt got out of the car and walked towards the house. Leslie drove away, with Brett still there. "Is he gonna be okay?"
"Yeah, he will. He's just blaming himself right now is all. He'll be alright over time."
Leslie nodded as she turned back onto the main road. "I sure hope so."
Matt unlocked the front door to the house and stepped inside. The smell of cigarettes, weed, and alcohol immediately blasted him as he entered. Forcing back a gag, he closed the door, locked it, and walked to the living room. He saw his father and his girlfriend sitting on the couch, snorting up a white powder. The girlfriend noticed him first and drunkenly waved at him. "Heeeyy…it's Matt." She slowly patted on the spot next to her. "Come here and tell us all *hic* about your day."
Matt shook his head. "Sorry, I just want to go to sleep tonight."
"Awww don't be like thaaat."
Matt sighed and turned to walk away when his father finally noticed him. He groggily stood up, nearly losing his balance several times. "Don't you daaare walk away from her. *Hic* She deserves your reespecct."
Matt glared at his father. "No, she doesn't, and you don't either. I'm going to bed."
Matt started walking away when he heard his father pick up an empty beer bottle. Instinctively, he ducked right as the bottle went over his head, smashing into pieces when it hit the tile. "When I say come heeere, you come here! *Hic*" His father shouted angrily. Matt stood back up and dashed to the door, opening it and leaving the house. He ran down the street to the point he knew his father couldn't possibly catch up with him in his state and slowed down to a walk.
Matt turned back and sighed. "I should probably call Brett and see if I can crash at his place tonight."
Brett was talking with Leslie when he felt his phone buzz in his pocket. He saw Matt's name on the screen. He swiped the little bar on the bottom of the screen and answered. "Hey Matt, why are you—"
"Can I crash at your place tonight? My dad is…well…"
Brett sighed. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure you can. I'll have Leslie head back and pick you up. You still at your place?"
"No, I'm a couple blocks down."
"Alright. We'll be there within five minutes."
Brett hung up the phone and looked at Leslie, who was already trying to make a u-turn. "Seems like his father is drunk…again."
Leslie shook her head. "He used to be so nice until she died. He's never been the same since."
Brett nodded. "And neither has Matt. He was pretty close with is mother. Leaving him with a father like that…it's obviously been hard on him."
After several minutes of waiting, Matt finally saw Leslie's car drive towards him. He hopped into the same seat he was in before and closed the door as Leslie started to drive again. "Sorry to make you come out here again. I thought my dad would be at her place tonight."
Leslie shook her head. "Don't worry about it. I'm just glad nothing happened to you this time."
Matt looked out the window. "Me too…"
After ten minutes, they pulled up in front of Brett's house, a bigger home in a well-to-do part of town. Matt and Brett exited the car and thanked Leslie. Brett and Leslie kissed before Leslie drove off to her place. Matt followed Brett up to the door and waited as he unlocked it. He opened the door and walked inside, followed by Matt. "I'm home! And I brought Matt with me!"
Brett's mother, a brunette in her early forties, greeted them with a smile. "Welcome home! How was the game?"
Brett sighed. "We lost in extra innings. The season's over."
His mom frowned and walked towards them. "It's alright. I'm sure you two will be able to make it to the college tournaments next year."
She turned to Matt. "Always nice to see you Matt. You hungry? We have some leftovers from dinner I could heat up for you as well."
Matt nodded. "Yeah, I'd like that."
After eating leftover spaghetti and meatballs, Matt and Brett each took turns showering. Brett grabbed a spare pillow and blanket and gave it to Matt. "Here you go." Brett then chuckled. "The couch is awaiting your return."
Matt smiled slightly and nodded. "It'll be good to be back. It's more comfortable than the bed I have at home. Goodnight."
Matt walked to the dark living room and lay the pillow down on the side of the arm rest. He then laid down and put the blanket over him. For a few minutes, he stared at the ceiling as the final moments of the game repeated in his mind. Soon, though, his eyes closed, and he fell into a deep, blissful sleep.