The Hitting Zone - Chapter 1132
"Now batting, number zero, Jake Atkins." My name was said over the speaker and the cheers rained down.
I walked around the catcher and umpire this time, getting in the lefty's box. I had a good view of my own team in the dugout, my family in the stands, and Mr. Miller down the line. The sight of them calmed me down and I looked to the catcher to make his decision.
He squatted down. My eyes immediately shifted to the pitcher. A part of me wanted to foul off a few pitches like Bryce was able to do, but a bigger part of me didn't want to give them a chance for that stupid intentional walk. If they dare to do it on an 0-2 count, they dare to do it any time.
The pitcher did his full windup and as soon as the ball left his fingers, I knew it was a low fastball. Not totally below the zone though, and most definitely within reach. I dropped my back shoulder more as I swung and made contact, doing my best to pull the ball to the gap of right-center field. I ditched my bat and took off amidst the yells and cheers.
Once I saw that the ball was definitely going between the center fielder and right fielder, I continued to sprint to second base. The shortstop was setup like he was going to receive the ball from the outfield so I clenched my jaw and made a dive for it. The tag came down as I slid onto the base and then it stayed on.
I frowned and looked to the umpire. "Time?" I requested.
"Time!" He lifted his arms and signaled. He gave the shortstop the side-eye, probably not liking that long tag either.
The shortstop took the tag off and stepped over me. I was just happy that he got away, but could hear some chirping from my dugout and from the stands. I got up and dusted myself off, glancing at Mr. Miller for the signs. Garret would get to come up with no outs and me in scoring position. Mr. Miller gave him the green light to swing.
Just as Garret rounded the umpire and catcher, the catcher stood up and said something to the ump. Garret looked surprised and gave the bat a small toss towards our dugout.
The home plate umpire raised four fingers and then pointed at first base. Garret was intentionally walked. The pitcher received a few boo's from our supporters but it wasn't as severe as when I got walked.
Brian came to the plate next, tapping it with his bat before getting set. He also had the green light to swing, it was just going to be a little more pressure on me and Garret to avoid a double play. Brian swung and missed the first pitch, then connected on the next.
I dragged myself back to second base from my lead and kept my back heel on it. Brian's hit was a short flare to center. The second baseman was going back for it and the center fielder was sprinting in. The ball just had too much hang time allowing the center fielder to get there and make the catch. I took one step off second to feint and the center fielder threw a bullet to the shortstop nearby. I was back on the bag in a heartbeat. The shortstop still put his glove on me.
"Safe." The umpire stated.
The tag stayed on an extra minute before the shortstop took it back, got the ball out, and threw it to his pitcher. Sean came up next. Both him and Brian had RBI singles in the first, yet now they both came up empty. Especially Sean, who hit into a 6-4-3 double play.
I slowed up as I approached the dugout.
"You okay, Jake?" Coach checked in on me as I came back.
I was taken aback. "Yea?"
He twisted his lips and was wearing a deep frown. "I just think that shortstop is playing games, holding that long tag on you. Twice. Don't let it get to your head."
I nodded slowly. "Yea, it was a little much. But it's better than constant pickoffs." Plus his tags were so late. It didn't stress me out too much. Not like it would have early on last season.
"Damn it." Sean cursed as he got back in the dugout. "Sorry guys. I really messed that up."
"Could have been better." Noah joked.
Garret shoved him. "Shut up and get moving." He looked at Sean. "It's a bad beat, but no stress. We've got this."
We all changed out our gear and took the field for the top of the fourth inning. Garret would face the core of the lineup to start. Batters three, four, and five. It's also where we had ran into suspicious activity.
Garret started strong, cornering the guy on a 1-2 count. He threw the fourth pitch outside, trying to tempt him to chase but no dice. The fifth pitch was his cutter inside, but the guy still wasn't tempted. Count went full. Garret then challenged him with his fastball. He fouled it down the line. And then another foul. And another. He held back on Garret's cutter that went a little too inside. Ball four. The batter took his base and brought up the cleanup: the first baseman.
Garret did a check throw to first to keep the runner close to the bag. A second one for good measure. Then when he went to pitch for the first time to this batter, the runner took off.
Mitchell caught Garret's pitch after the batter swung and missed, then did his best to throw to Noah at second. I backed up the play. Noah got the tag down as the runner slid in.
All eyes went to the ump. "Safe!"
"Are you blind?!"
A few yells from the crowd and the sentiment seemed to be that Mitchell's throw beat the runner. Too bad.
I frowned and kicked the dirt as I got back into position. Noah walked the ball back to Garret and said a few words that even I couldn't hear. My eyes shifted to the baserunner as we all got set for play to resume.
I glanced to Mitchell and saw that the signs were short and simple. No obvious placement. The runner took a normal lead; no signs of another steal.
The batter fell to an 0-2 count on the next pitch. Third pitch was outside and he was late to it, hitting a hopping grounder to me. I caught the ball and watched as the baserunner ran from second to third. I hesitated.
"To first!" Noah hollered.
Right. Get the guaranteed out. I threw to Sean and beat the hitter there for the first out of the inning.
"Don't worry about the runner and get the out for now." Noah said, looking right at me. He then took a step towards the mound. "You too, Garret. Focus on the batter."
Garret gave a short nod. I copied his actions. We had a two run lead. The guy on third didn't matter too much.
The fifth batter got caught chasing another outside pitch of Garret's, popping it foul to the right. Sean chased it near the opposing dugout. He leaned against their small fence, reached as far as he could and made the catch. He didn't forget about the runner on third and immediately threw a bullet to Mitchell at home. The runner on third retreated back to his bag and we were one out closer to getting out of this.
The next guy hit a routine grounder to Noah and I relaxed my shoulders. Noah fielded it perfectly and it was over. No damage done at all. We jogged back to our dugout and prepared the bottom of our lineup for the bottom of the fourth.
"A lot of action your way today." I said to Noah with a smile, knowing he would be happy.
Sure enough, it put a grin on his face. "Yea, averaging one per an inning so far." He drank some gatorade and sat back to watch our offense.
There wasn't much to see though. It was a three up, three down kind of inning. Jason had his second strikeout of the game. Mitchell grounded out to short. And Logan got a piece of the ball for a groundout to second.
Coach was frowning as we switched gears, clearly not liking what he had to see. This pitcher was doing a good job of keeping us pinned.
"Glad they didn't start with this guy." Noah said to me under his breath. "He freakin has our number or something."
"Not everyone's." I pointed out.
"You can have a hit off anyone so you don't count." Noah pouted.
"I'm not talking about me." I rolled my eyes. "Garret was good against this guy a few months ago. I think that's why they walked him last inning when I was on second with no outs."
"Yea, there were definitely a lot of benefits of them putting him on." Noah agreed. "It'd be great if we could load the bases for him next time."
I nodded in agreement.