The Hateful Eighth

by Toby Schreiber

 

Carlos Meza sat in the clubhouse, still in his uniform, staring into the void.

The first pitch he’d thrown all game went for an out. By the time he’d strutted back to the dugout after the seventh, no Marlin had seen second base. Only three had reached first, and he’d put all three there himself with two walks and a rare errant curveball hitting Henry Powell on the foot. Allan Dykstra’s second home run of the season had just doubled his team’s lead to 2-0. Meza was cruising.

Then the eighth inning happened.

Meza’s blank, expressionless face told the story as he sat in the clubhouse after the game. He still didn’t understand.

A 2-2 fastball hit Miguel Alvarez in the hip. He then promptly proved he was ok by taking second on a groundout, the first Marlin to reach scoring position all game. They still hadn’t registered a hit.

Keith Wilson stepped up. He hit below the Mendoza line last year and showed no signs he knew how to cross it this year either. Shouldn’t be a problem. He put the ball in play, softly down the third base line. The ever-present glove of Yugoro Kouki reached for it, the third baseman’s head snapped around to check the runner but the lumbering catcher wasn’t going anywhere. Now he’d throw to first base and get the shortstop. No-hitter preserved. It was a routine play. He’d done it hundreds of times.

Except this time, his glove was empty. Meza’s stomach lurched as the butterflies committed ritual suicide. A flash of white passed between the former Mariner at the hot corner and his pitcher on the mound, as Alvarez padded around to score. Kouki’s head dropped, the ball sailed back over his head the other way courtesy of Josh Bell. Too late to be of assistance.

“Head up, champ!” called Dee Gordon, jogging over from second base. “Plenty of baseball left yet today”. He wasn’t wrong. Meza gave the third baseman a nod of the head. “It’s ok”, the nod said. “Things happen”.

Lefty Ryan Rieger stepped up to the plate. Ball, ball, ball… this wasn’t how it was meant to be. Ball four hit the corner, just about, in the umpire’s opinion, and became strike one. The next pitch was hit at Dee Gordon, ranging to his left, and down went Rieger. Wilson sprinted from first to third in the meantime, showing heads-up baserunning. One on, one in, one to go. Bring it on, Julio Solis.

Suddenly, Meza was aware of a group walking towards him; his teammates, with a coach in tow. A pep talk, perhaps. To calm the nerves. They were of course unaware of the unfortunate fate that had befallen the butterflies already. But no, it wasn’t Tim Belcher in the black and gold hoodie. It was Clint Hurdle. Carlos’ 85th pitch, which had earned him the troublesome second out of the inning, would be his last. Confused, but not in a mood to argue – one does not argue with Clint Hurdle, if one knows what’s good for him – Meza handed over the ball and stepped toward the dugout to cheers from the visiting Pirates fans, and ass-slaps all around.

He’d pitched seven stellar innings, and the eighth was by no means a disaster in any other situation. He’d been hooked in the middle of a no-hitter. That was odd. Yet, the tying run was in scoring position. That was also odd during a no-hitter. Sometimes, baseball makes no sense. There’s no justice. Meza was one out away from twenty-three completed innings this season. He’d given up four runs in all that time, and he’d given up the last one on zero hits. He’d ‘earned’ two losses, and was being pulled in the midst of his first win.

Zero hits. That still frustrated him.

The crack of the bat he heard as he was pulling on his jacket made perfect sense. Of course it did. Make that five runs, and he wasn’t even on the field for that one. No more win for Carlos, he’s not allowed nice things.

The first Marlins hit of the game produced Carlos Meza’s second charged run of the afternoon. He didn’t allow the runner to reach base, and he didn’t throw the pitch that clocked the RBI. Baseball.

Several innings later, the Marlins brought in a new catcher, Stephen Vogt. He singled in his first at bat – the Marlins second hit of the entire game. Julio Solis, the owner of the only other Marlins hit in the game in his first Marlins start, bunted him over to second, not even trying to get on base himself. Isacco Sico then doubled over Kouki’s head to walk it off.

Three hits, three runs.

Baseball. There’s still plenty more of it to play.