Friday, October 16, 2009

The Streak - 48

Thinking is worse than a mistake in sports: it's a sin. And Evan committed it twice in the Yankees' 9-6 loss to the Royals that evening, their twenty-sixth in a row. His first trespass occurred during a routine defensive play, a sharply hit grounder a few feet to his left. He'd fielded it correctly – that is, unthinkingly. And then for some reason, rather than allow his body to proceed through the ritual flow of motions that define a throw to first while imposing but the slightest force of will, he thought. It seemed to him that the ball was stuck abnormally deep in the web of his glove; the unexpected effort it took to withdraw the ball gave it the illusion of increased weight. It was no longer the ball, the familiar thing he never had to think about. The thing he'd better never think about. Now it was some other thing, a strange and hefty sphere. What to do with this thing? And so Evan thought:

It feels bad to take this thing out of my glove, what is it? The ball. The baseball. The ball must have got stuck in my glove, that's weird. At least I caught the ball; that's good. The ball's in my other hand now. Am I sweating? I'm holding the ball. I better throw this ball to first. To Brendan. Is he pissed off because we laughed at him before the game? No, fuck him. But he will be pissed if I don't throw him this ball. That's a long way to throw something, really. How likely am I to make this throw? Fans don't fucking understand how hard this is. How hard it is to field a ball that's hit a hundred miles an hour and relay it to first base. It's heavy in my hand, my arm stretched out behind me. Don't drop it, don't drop it. Am I holding it too tight? Got to throw it now. When am I supposed to let it go? What am I aiming at?

By the time Evan released the ball he had absolutely no idea where it would go. The mechanics of the throw, and in particular the release point, seemed to him to be a matter of blind and desperate estimation. All he knew was that he had to try. He had to try to throw the ball to first. And so the ball sailed high and to the left, five feet over Brendan's head.

The second time Evan thought was at the end of his last at-bat, during which he represented the tying run. There was one out in the bottom of the ninth, runners on first and third. He'd fouled off a couple of sliders to stay alive with a full count. Surely he'd get something to hit now. And then he heard his name: Ev-an! Ev-an! Ev-an! The crowd, which had booed his error lustily, was tentatively warming to the possibility of redemption. A moment before he was serene, responsibly working the count on this no-name reliever to see if he might cough up a juicy fastball. Now he was alarmed. The crowd had forgiven him in anticipation of a home run. Now he had to deliver. Right? No, stop, no, he thought. Don't let them get into your head.

The pitcher peered at Kyle leading off of first. Just as he lifted his left foot and prepared to deliver, a storm of contradicting thoughts invaded Evan's brain: This is destiny. I'm meant to hit this ball over the wall. I know it. We're going to come back and win this game and I will be the hero. I can see it. It's inevitable now. But what is destiny if it must be carried out by action? It's not destiny at all, it's just some fucking thing that either happens or it doesn't. So do I swing? No. Yes. Maybe. See the pitch first, see the pitch. Don't be a fool.

He watched a ninety-two mile per hour fastball hiss by him down the middle of the plate, waist-high. Strike three.

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