"I should have leaned in and taken a hit to the arm." Noah muttered as he stuffed his batting gloves in his bag.
I elbowed him. "That's technically illegal. The umpire can call it a strike if it's still in the zone. Instead of leaning in, open up your stance and put your left foot out more."
Noah suddenly grinned. He grabbed his glove and threw his arm around me as we left the dugout together. "Look at you! Starting to know all the rules!"
I pushed him off, slightly embarrassed. I didn't know all the little rules, but I really did pay attention to ones that surrounded batters.
Bottom of the third. Kyle handled them extraordinarily well. Batter seven hit into a groundout to Noah. Then it was back-to-back strikeouts again for Kyle. Four through three innings. He pumped his fists excitedly as we went back to the dugout together.
"How's his control?" I heard Coach asking Mitchell in a low voice.
Mitchell was smiling. "Impeccable."
I went to my bag to switch out my gear and headed back out. Garret joined me in seconds, tightening his batting gloves. We didn't talk much as we watched that Cody guy warm up on the mound and throw some more practice pitches. He wasn't looking any different than from the first inning.
Garret's name was announced and he stepped into the lefty's box, leaving me in the on deck circle. Garret fouled the first pitch down the line. Then the second was straightened out to center. The center fielder sprint in at an angle and made a diving catch to get the first out.
Garret came back. "I probably should have made him work some more."
"I will." I told him, heading for the lefty's box.
Cody got set, did his windup, and threw his first pitch to me. A curveball in the zone for a called strike. The second pitch was similar. 0-2. I was cornered. I took a deep breath and prepared for the real work. Cody threw me another curve and I fouled it back. Fourth pitch: a curve; I fouled that back too. Foul. Foul. Foul. The eighth pitch was a curveball in the dirt. I let it pass for my first ball. 1-2. Cody didn't give up the curve at all. Foul. Foul. Ball. Foul. Ball. Full count. Foul. Foul. Foul. We were on our way for a twenty pitch at bat.
My arms were feeling a little shaken. Fouling the ball back out of play wasn't easy but I need to keep this going. If this guy wanted to throw nothing but curves to me, then I'll let him.
Another curveball hit the dirt before home plate, granting me a walk. I tossed my bat back to the dugout and jogged to first as I tried to tune out the crowd. I could hear some 'boos' and had a feeling it was for me and not the pitcher.
"Good effort." Coach Luis patted me on the helmet.
The first baseman and I stayed close to the bag as Sean got ready for his at bat. Mr. Miller signed for me to go on contact. I had to take some kind of lead. I took a deep breath and tried to calm my pounding heart as I started to slip away from first base. Just a few feet out.
Cody didn't even glance at me before trying a pickoff attempt. I dove back for first base but my hand hit the first baseman's cleat instead of the base. A tag came down heavy on my shoulder as I reached out with my other hand.
"Out!" The umpire declared and the crowd went wild.
I kept my head low as I got up and jogged back to my dugout.
"Jake." Coach reached out to stop me from passing him.
I stopped but still didn't look up. I could feel my face heating up. I was embarrassed through and through. All that work to get on base just to be called out on the first pickoff attempt.
"Jake." Coach repeated. "Look at me."
I cringed as I lifted my head.
"You had a good at bat, making that kid work." Coach stated. "Great decision making."
"But..." I prompted, wanting him to get the bad part over with.
"But nothing." Coach gave my shoulder a squeeze. "You did your best. Nothing wrong with that. Getting picked off is a bad feeling, but I don't think you did anything wrong. You weren't too far out. The kid on the mound has a good motion. He didn't even hint that he was thinking of a pickoff. They must have done their research on you from last year and their coach probably instructed a pickoff as soon as you got on first."
"They didn't try last time I was on." I pointed out.
"Yea, because Garret was on third." Coach said. "It's more convenient for him to throw to third. Plus, Garret is fast. If they had done a pickoff attempt to first and messed it up, Garret would have scored easily."
Sean hit a grounder to the second baseman to end the inning.
Coach let go of me. "Change out your gear. And keep your head up. This game isn't over because you were picked off. We have three more innings to make a move. You'll get at least one more chance."
I nodded and went to my bag.
Noah was there, waiting. "You okay?"
I gave a weak shrug. "Feeling a little less bad. But I think I should have hit the ball instead of settling for a walk now."
"Next time, you will. I believe it." Noah told me.
I smiled and finished the switch. I pulled my hat down on my head and picked up the glove. "Let's go. I don't want to mess with Kyle's rhythm."
Noah snorted. "If us taking an extra five seconds messes him up then we can just put Dave on the mound."
I smiled as we took the field, getting into position.
Top of the fourth. Kyle was back at the top of the lineup. The first batter swung late on the third pitch, hitting a pop up in shallow left field. Noah was there to track it down and made the catch. The second batter also got under a pitch too much, hitting a routine fly ball to right field. Bryce made the catch with ease and threw it back in to me. I returned the ball to Kyle. The third batter made more solid contact on Kyle's first pitch, hitting a hard grounder my way.
I got my glove down in the dirt and my body behind the play. Then I pulled the ball out of my glove and threw it to Sean at first.
"That's the way to bounce back!" Noah rushed to me, slapping me on the shoulder.
"Way to back it up with your body." Coach also complimented when I got back to the dugout.
I sat down near my bag with Noah as the top of the fifth started.
"We need to start making things happen." Garret entered the dugout and started to address the team. "Everyone. I want to see some swings and connections. Just like what they did to Kyle, we can do to their guy."