The Squeeze

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by Roland Howell

“Every year comes World Series time it sets off old memories of when I was playin’ in one. ‘Course it weren’t the big one. It was the ‘Little World Series’ back in the fifties. We was playin’ Kansas City. We was in the old International League and they was in the other one, whatever that was. We was back in our own park standin’ three games ta three playin’ the decidin’ game. It got to be two ta one Kansas City in the bottom of the ninth and we was comin’ up for our last bats, game on the line.

“Now I’m ridin’ the bench up ta then. I’m a shortstop, not bad with the glove but I’d been hittin’ like crap. Sittin’ it out was okay with me. Big pressure innin’s scare the shit outta’ me. Travis Traxler is pitchin’ for KC. He’d gone all the way. Traxler owns a fork ball that falls off a cliff just before crossin’ the plate. Had a smokin’ fastball that he mixed in too. We’d a been with no runs ‘cept “Iggy” Shultz, their second baseman, booted a bounder up the middle in the sixth.

“Well ta git back ta how it was in the last a the ninth. “Smokey” Mc Closkey leads off for us and flies out ta deep right. One gone. “Rat” Montgomery comes up and doubled inta the gap ‘tween center and left. Eddie Szfranski is next and damned if he don’t double off the right field wall. “Rat” come racin’ ‘round third. Racin’ ain’t quite the word fer it. “Rat’s” top gear is second with long on the clutch getting’ there.

But he makes it ‘cause their right fielder overthrows second base, forfettin’ “Rats” the tyin’ run and damned if the ball don’t git ta the third baseman ‘fore Szfranski who is stretchin’ for a triple. “Rat’s” home and now we is tied but with two outs and nobody on. “Gump” Morgan is our Manager and when “Gump” gets riled he’s the nastiest human on the planet. Szfranski come skulkin’ inta the dugout with “Gump” chewin’ at him like a hound dog on a leg bone.

“Wee” Willie Wienke is due up. Honest ta God that’s his name ‘cept for the “Wee” part. That just come natural. Well, Willie’s only one for fifteen for the series. He hit a chopper down the third base line in the second game. Their third baseman had trouble getting’ it outta’ his glove and missed him at first. They give ole Willie a single, outta’ kindness I ‘spect.

“So I is just sittin’ there kinda’ lookin’ forward ta extra innin’s when ‘Gump’ come over. He’s still madder ‘n a flock a wet hens.

“Git the hell up,” he says. You’re battin’ fer Wienke.”

“But I’m a pinch runner,” I says. Oh, I forget ta tell ya’. Ain’t nobody faster ‘n me in ten states. Pinch runnin’ is the only reason I’m on the team. “Gump’s” face turns redder ‘n a sunbur’t beet.

“You see any runner out there to pinch fer?” he snarls. “Now you git your ass up and git on first any way ya can. We’ll figure some way ta git cha’ home. And don’t come back ta the dugout ‘cept by way a home plate, dammit.”

“So I heads fer the batter’s box. My guts is churnin’ like the rapids of Niagara. Was a wonder I didn’t fill the britches. Traxler smokes a fast ball by me for a strike and I’m wishin’ I could be any place on earth but standin’ in that batter’s box. I start ta sweat bad and my palms is wet on the handle.

Travis’s next pitch is his famous forkball and I swing way over the top. I swear ta God it dropped down six inches no more’n a foot ‘fore gittin’ ta the plate. Now he’s got me two ta nothin’ and I’m scared shitless of makin’ the last out and even more scared of “Gump” Morgan. He’d dump me for sure but not before one of his big tongue lashins’.

I’d almost wished he’d a dumped me before the game.
“But then Traxler did somethin’ real nasty. He threw at my head. I hadda’ hit the dirt. Figures he can waste one, I guess. That’s when I started ta git mad. I gets up and gives the son-of-a-bitch the finger. He spits at the ground and sends another one at me. It’s a little lower but I don’t move. I feel it hit hard on my left shoulder. I’m steamin’ but I just stand there a moment givin’ Travis both middle fingers before trottin’ on ta first, smilin’ all the way, damn shoulder achin’ like a son-of-a-bitch.

“Next batter is Maury Moleno. He come from some island in the Indies. His real name is Mauricio. Nobody calls him that and well all try to help him talk American. He catches on pretty good but when he gets mad he mumbles nothin’ but spicy talk. Anyhow, he comes up and Traxler serves him a fastball strike. Next come the forkball but it drops too much, hits the dirt and goes ta the backstop. Now I’m on second, piece of cake. I take a pretty good lead off and Travis turns ta check me and I gives him the finger one more time. I can see he’s gittin’ riled.
“I takes another good lead off but I’m watchin’ the catcher and steal the sign. I start back ta the base just as Traxler wheels and throws ta second ‘cept he musta’ thought second was half way ta left field which was where he threw the ball. Now I’m on third showin’ the finger agin’.

“Now Moleno is a hitter than either blasts one or strikes out. Nothin’ tricky. Traxler smokes him with a fastball and it’s one and two. I’m thinkin’ suicide squeeze but “Gump” knows Moleno’s chance o’ layin’ one down the third base line is no better’n a hog doin’ a figure eight on ice skates. I see the sign come ta hit away so I takes a short lead and hopes for the best figurin’ I’m goin’ ta die on third. But “Gump” can’t chew my ass out. I done my part.

“Fork ball I figures, catchers got the glove down. Sure enough Travis heaves up a big forker. Moreno swings like he wants ta send it inta Lake Ontario but just tips the top of the droppin’ forker. The ball takes a couple of short hops flattens out, and starts ta die half way up the third base line. I takes off for home like a tomcat with his tail on fire. The third baseman was at the ball pretty quick. Moleno is hard on ta first and the third baseman musta’ seen he can’t get ‘im ‘fore I git home so he goes ta the catcher. I bellies under the throw and gits my fingers on the plate just ‘fore I felt the catcher’s glove whack my ass. We was “Little World Series” champs on a no call suicide squeeze.

“The bull pen empties and we’re all huggin’ and rollin’ around on the infield but “Gump” ain’t nowhere ta be seen. When we all git back ta the clubhouse there’s “Gump” lookin’ like he’s a bull seen red. There’s four cases of beer cans stacked against the wall, no champagne. We’re workin’ for a damn tightfisted ownership of which “Gump” has a good chunk. Well, as I say he’s lookin’ so mad we all come quiet and wait.

“Nobody listens ta me,” he starts off. “What the hell was you thinkin’ Moreno?

I give the sign ta hit away and you bunt.” Now, as scared o’ “Gump” as I is most times I figure he’s overdoin’ it, so I pipes up “Hey, we won didn’t we. Ya’ told me ta git home or it was my ass and Maury seen to it that I did. It weren’t the prettiest bunt ever but it worked.” I says. Ole “Gump” scowled and then a big grin come on him. So big I thought his face were goin’ ta crack.

“Best no bunt, bunt I ever seen,” he said. Then he let out a whoop and shook Maury’s hand and my hand and we all started carryin’ on, beer cans poppin’ suds slossin’.

“Yessir, every Fall at Series time I treats myself ta that happy memory a winnin’ our own Series a long time ago. It happened just like I tell’d it too, so help me God.

copyrightCopyright Roland Howell