[b]23 FIGHT RIGHT Sean phones Rachel to tell her he invited Roxanne to the beach with them. Popping an artery, "You did what!?" "Think about it. Her ideas about you and Jeff are unfair, and may be dangerous.
What better way to help her change her opinion." "And what better way to get her back into your life, at my expense!" "Do I hear some lack of self-assurance, Rachel. Are you gonna put a fence around me so I can't get away?" "I want to. But you're right…on both issues." "I seriously doubt that she'll come though.
Maybe the invitation alone will soften her a bit." "Maybe, Sean. But next time talk to me first, OK?" "I agree.
I didn't think of it through, until I was talking to her, and didn't want to pass up the opportunity. It felt urgent." "I agree…now, my love." 24 QUICK 'N SLICK The Cubs are relieved that Juan, the Cardinal ace, doesn't go to the mound to start the game. Soon it sinks in that they will have to face him later. Jeff walks to the plate realizing how important it is to get off to a good start. He feels the pressure, so he takes a deep breathe and tells himself to stay focused on what needs to be done.
He carefully watches the lefty pitcher throwing warm-up pitches. Each time he pitches he falls toward the third base line. As Jeff steps into the batters box, he sees the infield playing for a bunt. He taunts them by squaring around into a bunt position. As the pitcher delivers the pitch, he quickly steps back, ready to swing away.
He holds up but the pitch is called strike one. Now he crowds the plate in a hitting stance. They still play for a bunt. Again the pitch comes to the outside edge of the plate.
Smoothly Jeff drops the bat into bunt position, bunting hard to the right side of the mound. The pitcher's momentum takes him away from the bunt. By the time he changes directions, the bunt rolls past him, as well as past the shallow first baseman.
Alertly the second baseman had run to cover first base, but now watches the ball roll through his vacated position. With a sour look on his face, the short stop retrieves the ball in the shallow outfield. Seeing Jeff running for second base, he quickly turns, throwing the ball to the base in time to beat Jeff. The only problem being—there's no one covering second base, which is why Ricky, the current base coach sent Jeff to second. Now he continues to third as the ball continues into foul territory.
Alex, the third base coach, frantically waves him on. The throw home is late and off-line. Score 1-0. With the pitcher looking frustrated, Jose walks on five pitches. Michael laces into one to third that's caught.
Jose dives back into first as the throw comes. Safe is the call.
Karim walks on four pitches. After the coach talks to his pitcher, the first pitch to Fred comes down the middle. Upper cutting, Fred lofts a high fly to left. The left fielder runs hard but then watches it sail over the fence, to make the score 4-0!
The coach replaces the pitcher, but not with Juan. He stops the rally cold. Pitching through two more innings, he allows no runs. So Juan comes to the mound in the fourth, down only 4-3. After a quick strikeout, Jeff steps to the plate. The Cardinal coach instructs two outfielders to play infield, so that they have four infielders in regular position and two looking for a bunt, and a lonely center fielder.
It sure makes sense—not many can hit a fair ball against Juan. Jeff walks to the dugout fence. Sean says, "You have a quick bat. Take a strike; then swing away. Swing hard and see what happens." The first pitch is a blazing fastball in tight, called strike one. This scares Jeff; thinking that ball could really hurt! Then he remembers to just focus on what he has to do.
Another scorcher, but heading to the outer half of the plate. Jeff swings a little late, but hard, lifting it lazily down the first base line. The first baseman steps back and jumps but the ball goes over his outstretched arm. He looks down and sees the ball hit the foul line. Jeff speeds around first base, as the first baseman and center fielder race to the ball.
As Jeff races past second, the shortstop moves all the way to the first base line, to relay the ball home. Jeff gets a green light at third, as the shortstop receives a good throw, then fires the ball perfectly to the plate.
Glancing at the ball, Jeff immediately stops in his tracks. Jeff would have been a dead duck, as the catcher handles the throw cleanly. Jeff scampers back to third, watching the eyes of the third baseman. Sensing that the catcher has thrown the ball, Jeff stops and hightails it to the plate again.
The third baseman hastily catches the ball and throws home in the same motion. Jeff slides into home as the catcher makes the tag.
However, the ball had slipped out of the third baseman's hand and the catcher merely tried to fake Jeff into stopping again. With the score 5-3 the Cubs can afford to give up one run in the Cardinals last three times up. Juan doesn't get rattled, striking out Jose and Michael. For the Cubs, Karim takes over at the mound. Facing the bottom off the order, he gets the Cardinals one, two, three.
Karim leads off in the fifth. He had been practicing on fastballs at the batting cages. Yet he strikes out. Now he restrains himself from slamming down his bat. Fred steps in, deciding to crowd the plate.
A fastball will not intimidate him. Juan, likewise not to be intimidated, sends a letter-high blazer for the inside corner.
It tails inside, hitting Fred's jersey as he turns away from the pitch.
The umpire instructs him to take first base on the hit-batsman. Fred hustles to first, even if it looks like slow motion. Ricky, likewise, comes to the plate confident, to Sean's delight. After two strong swings, he knows now to protect the plate. The next pitch is outside enough to take for ball one. Guessing that Juan doesn't want to hit him too, he looks away. Sure enough it might be outside but to close to let go with two strikes.
Just going with the pitch he lines the ball over the second baseman's head into the gap. The center fielder hurries the ball in, so Fred is held up at third base on Ricky's one out double. Realizing that he's now pitching to the bottom of the order, Juan fires pitches down the middle, not wanting to risk giving up a run on a passed ball.
In three pitches he strikes out Clyde, and Roy likewise, leaving the runners stranded. Sean's comforted in the thought that they, at least, are near the top of their order for the last inning. But now the Cardinal's have their top for the bottom of the fifth. They get psyched, as they know this is their best shot in getting back into the game.
Three runs would give them the lead. The leadoff hitter grounds back to the pitcher. Karim tosses to Jose for an easy out. Then a double follows back-to-back singles. Trying to stop the tying run from scoring, Michael smoothly grabs Alex's throw and fires home. Blocking the plate with one foot, Fred receives a waist high throw. Applying a two handed tag, Fred thinks, "I got him!" Showing the umpire the ball in his mitt, the call is, "You're out!" The Cubs scream ecstatically, as the Cardinals feel crushed.
Sean goes to the mound to talk to Karim. He's been blessed with a third string pitcher, Jose, who does well under pressure. But he decides to stay with Karim.
A hard grounder to second, hitting a rut, bounds over Jeff's glove into center. Tie score. The batter advances on the throw home, putting the go-ahead run at second.
Sean makes the pitching change. Realizing that Jose may want to pitch too carefully to the sixth hitter with weaker hitters following, Sean let's Jose know that a walk would also guarantee seeing the top of the order in the last inning.
Jose gets him to ground routinely to second. Jeff stumbles, but grabs the ball and tosses to Karim at first for the third out. "Trying to give us heart failure, eh," Sean says to Jeff in the dugout. Smiling, "Yup!" Giving him a hug, "Way to stay with it. Jeff, you're up second this inning. Now we need a run to get the lead back." "Sure thing, Sean," Jeff replies as he put on a batting helmet. With one out the Cardinals play their regular positions for Jeff.
Bewildered, Jeff looks at Sean. "They'll give you first base, no more," Sean hollers, but then mouths out, "Look for high pitches." Jeff nods that he understood that. They had talked long ago about the strategy of pitching high to a bunter. High pitches are harder to bunt. Of course, high fastballs are real tough to bunt. The first pitch is high, ball one. The next is high, ball two. The next comes down the middle, strike one. The next, with Jeff pulling back his bunt, is just to high, ball three.
Juan grooves another fastball, Jeff taking all the way, strike two. Another blazer comes well into the strike zone, with Jeff half-swinging a foul ball toward the dugout. Four more fastballs turn into half swing foul balls. Looking flustered, Juan throws a change-up in the dirt that the catcher fails to block.
Jeff hustles to first base on the walk, then is waved to second.
The catcher throws to second, but no one covers in time. Jeff continues to third. Again he gets waved on. Jeff doesn't try to look at the play behind him, as that would slow him down. Eyeing the catcher, he anticipates an off-line throw and scores standing up.
Juan slams his glove down. His coach bangs his head against the fence repeatedly. The Cubs have the lead back! Juan calms down, striking out Jose again. With two outs, Michael decides that Juan doesn't want him to get around on a pitch, so looks to the outer half of the plate. The pitch is there, but Michael fouls it back. Looking away again, he gets it, and gets all of it. Michael crushes it to the opposite field. Will it stay up there? Yes!
Home run. Score 7-5. The Cubs have an insurance run. In the bottom of the sixth, Jose knows to pitch strikes to the bottom of the order. A surprise bunt goes to Karim charging. He throws to Jeff covering first. The throw pulls Jeff off the base. Now a ground ball to first. Karim steps on first for the out and throws to second for a possible double play. The throw hits the runner and scoots away.
The runner reaches third base standing. Sean tells Karim, "Good play!" Karim says, "Yeah, right!" "Really! One run means nothing to them.
They need two. It was worth it to try for another out. Now we play for the easy out! Everyone. Get the easy out! On 0-2, Jose gets the batter swinging at a low pitch for strike three. Now there are two outs, but the top of the order. After two quick strikes, Jose tries to put extra on the pitch, but slips on the pitching rubber and the pitch hits the batter. Sean makes sure the fielders understand that if they get the runner on first out trying to steal second, the game is over—no need to worry about the runner on third scoring.
The 1-1 pitch gets hit hard up the middle. Jose deflects the ball in a fine fielding effort. Jeff quickly adjusts, fields the ball, and flips to Michael for the force out, ending the game. The Cubs go wild! The sorely disappointed Cardinals become gracious losers.